In Kerala last week there was an Italian woman staying in the same homestay as me. She inquired if I knew why there was so much rubbish in the streets in India. It was a bit funny to hear this in the heart of Fort Kochi where there is little to no littering around town, at least not in the areas where tourists are expected to be roaming the streets.
I wish I had had an answer for her, but I didn’t. It seems strange to me that a group of humans who are so preoccupied with hygiene and cleanliness, especially related to religious rituals regardless of their faith, would generally appear unfazed by the mounds of garbage everywhere you go–even right outside one’s doorstep.
I was reminded of this the other day as I left the house and discovered someone had a luncheon right outside my door and left all of the styrofoam plates and such right by the tree that sits on the curb in front of our house. This came on the heels of my realising that our neighbour throws his garbage from his apartment down into the empty lot next to our house.
It seems to me that the undergirding philosophy is: as long as it’s not in my room, in my house, on my property then it’s fine. Out of sight, out of mind as the saying goes. We need more humans in India to behave like these children do: they see some waste and they clean it up!
And I’ll admit it: it takes effort to recycle in India. This summer I got tired of mixing wet and dry waste in my house since I’ve learned so much about the benefits of waste segregation and compost over the last two years. But of course, that means convincing my family of its merits. And, perhaps like many families, mine thinks it’s great to segregate, compost, and recycle in theory, but the effort keeps them from following through.
To recycle in Bengaluru, like in many Indian cities, one must create their own system starting with separate containers for wet and dry waste. I bought a set of kambha pots from the Daily Dump for our house, which makes composting really easy to do. All you need to do is collect the organic waste in a bin (including hair and nails) and make sure you take it out daily, stir it weekly, and add some EM (Effective Microorganisms) or microbes of some kind and within a couple of weeks you’ll have excellent smelling, healthy soil!
But the hard part is actually the dry waste segregation and collection. For example, in my family, little pieces of plastic wind up in our compost soil (usually the snipped off corners of milk and curd packets). I suspect since our indoor compost bin is in the kitchen and the other waste bins are in the hallway, it’s too much effort to keep moving back and forth. This just means I need to sift through the waste and make sure it’s separated before I take it to the kambha pot outside.
Once we have our dry waste segregated into plastic, paper, and glass & metal I need to take it to the dry waste collection dealer. At first I thought this meant a scrap dealer so I went to the one closest to my house to see if he’d take my trash. Unfortunately, he only takes newspapers, which we have already been giving him for years.
In order to figure out where to take the dry waste for recycling you need to consult your municipality’s website. The BBMP in Bangalore has a fairly easy-to-manage site where you can find out exactly which places you can take it to. (See here for a report on some problems with BBMP waste management overall.) Each pin code should have its own. There seem to be 3 such places in my neighbourhood alone. You drop it off and they even seem to do the segregation. But you should be kind to these workers and make sure your trash is clean and rinsed before you hand it over.
Of course, ultimately, it’s about reducing–especially anything made with plastic. One such Bangalorean even managed to place all his dry waste in just 1 cement sack over the course of 6 months. This is a goal to work towards!
There is a lot of news and activity in Indian urban centres related to waste. In Bangalore there was a garbage walk last week to educate citizens about the waste problems in our city. And if you manage to at least segregate your dry and wet waste at the bare minimum, think how much more pleasant those piles of trash in our streets will be and how much easier the waste picker’s work will be.