Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Being Indian: Waste Segregation

So, what is it that has made me so mad this time? Is it the lonely plastic tag in the wet waste bin, the used diaper that has been sitting on the footpath down the road for days or the little garbage dumps that have sprung all across Bangalore City?

About a month ago, the BBMP took a great initiative to distribute pamphlets motivating residents of Bangalore to segregate their waste. The reason for this move was that the use of the Mavallipura landfill, where Bangalore dumped its garbage, was suspended. If residents segregate their garbage, the dry waste can directly be sent for recycling and the wet waste for composting. It is a month later and this plan has dreadfully failed. While the government is trying to deal with the problem by bridging the gaps in the implementation of this garbage revolution, some residents continue to strongly believe that segregation is a “waste” of their time and that it is in fact the BBMP's responsibility to do so.

Firstly, it is a lot simpler and less time consuming to segregate your garbage. You dispose of your wet waste every day and your dry waste only once a week. Since we've started doing this at home, we've realised that it is a lot more cleaner and there are absolutely no fruit flies. Secondly, it is impossible to segregate garbage after it has been mixed. All of your dry waste will probably be covered in tea leaves and drenched in tomato juice; and your wet waste will be tainted with non-biodegradable bits of plastic. Dry waste that has been mixed with wet waste cannot be recycled. Therefore, it is NOT BBMP's responsibility to segregate garbage. It is our responsibility.

“Why should we segregate garbage for BBMP if they cannot even provide us with good roads?” We are not segregating garbage for BBMP. We are doing it for ourselves, for a cleaner city, for better hygiene, for the environment and more. Since the initiative has begun, the locality I live in has seen the birth of many small dumps on every street. I am not referring to the large dumps that are emerging across the city due to the anomalies in the system; I am talking about lonely garbage bags that are just lying around randomly. These bags are thrown by residents who are too lazy to segregate.

Garbage attracts all kinds of things. From being kicked around and strewn across the street by stray dogs to becoming a breeding ground for insects and pests. But the most hazardous effect of these little garbage dumps is that it attracts and becomes a feeding ground for rodents. When the number of rodents equals the number of residents in a given area, it gives rise to plague. It is not a meager issue, but a larger one at hand.

The effects of unsegregated waste are endless. It poses great risks to the health and hygiene of the pourakarmikas. Try putting your hand into a bin of mixed waste and chances are, you will get scratched and cut by pieces of metal, glass, pins, blades, needles, etc. They are also exposed to infectious sanitary waste, hazardous e-waste as well as rotting wet waste on a daily basis. All of this because we are too lazy to use two separate bins for our waste.

When waste is not segregated, it ends up in a dump. These dumps are an environmental threat and pose many risks to other species. The film, The Plastic Cow, shows the plight of cows that were found with huge amounts of plastic in their stomachs leading to their slow and painful deaths. Many marine creatures fall prey to garbage dumping near the sea. The GreatPacific Garbage Patch is a floating pile of garbage that has been spun together by the currents of the ocean. While the patch exists close to Hawaii, there is no guarantee that we are not creating our very own in the Indian Ocean. 

Not segregating garbage affects the country at large. As residents of Bangalore, we must be proud that our municipality has at least taken an initiative to educate us to be more responsible citizens. Multiply one city's problem several times to envision the the bigger picture. A country such as India, that relies greatly on agriculture, can make great progress with sustainable living. Waste management can ensure that a larger portion of wet waste is composted and turned into useful energy.

In the current situation of the country, we must be resourceful and optimize the use of everything, including our garbage. Waste management only ends with segregation; it begins with acquiring less garbage. Go old school and use steel or glass plates and cups instead of paper or plastic ones. Carry your own bottle of water, do not buy packaged water. Carry a bag when you're shopping and refuse plastic covers. Re-use anything and everything. If you can't re-use it, pass it on to someone who can.

BBMP does need to take some more steps to mobilise this initiative – ensure better waste management by commercial bulk generators, training of pourakarmikas to refuse and appropriately collect unsegregated waste, training of citizens to understand the necessity of waste segregation and a system for identification and punishment for those who break the rules.

No city or society can make progress without active participation of its citizens. So while BBMP tackles the issue of correctly transporting the segregated garbage, we as citizens must not stop segregating. We must start segregating waste as a lifestyle rather than an obligation to the law.

I would like to thank Vani Murthy, Shyamala and their team for providing me with the necessary information and insight for this piece.


  1. OMG I felt like I could have written that first paragraph :) !!! Nice one Vahini (did I get that right?), loved the informative research and links you have put into it.

    Do publicise it so that all more people read it and can rethink their attitudes! I am definitely going to share it on my FB wall.


  2. Vahini you are bang on! Thank you also for providing an insight in to how things work. It is inherent in our Indian attitude to palm of the responsibility to some one else. "That's not my job " is a common statement you'll come across.
    In Japan waste is segregated in to ten different categories and citizens are given a hand out identifying over 500 different types of wastes. So much so that lipstick and lipstick tube fall under different category. While we have a long way to get there, the drive initiated by BBMP is a step in that direction. it is great to know that amongst us there are responsible
    citizens who are willing to support this drive and also educate others.

  3. thanks for sharing..

  4. Agreed, great share and post. Keep us updated!!

    -Land Source Container Service, Inc.

  5. Hi,
    Great article.
    I am looking for labels (with picture) - wet waste, sanitary waste and solid waste. I am hoping to print it, laminate and stick it on dust bins.
    This would help the apartment residents and maids easily identify.

    Please let me know if you know a good set of graphical labels.

  6. Do not dump kitchen waste in sink as it consumes more water and cause a bigger trouble for you and your family.