Not in my Backyard

I just finished reading the new book Not in my Backyard and viewing the short accompanying documentary of the same title. Both are put out by the Centre for Science and Environment, publishers of Down to Earth magazine. This is such important work–to do a survey of solid waste management across the country and to share the findings, particularly what works especially well.

The title comes from the idea that no one wants some one else’s waste in their backyard, and in recent Indian history there has been quite a lot of agitation around the country with people coming together to fight cities dumping in villages and other such problems.

The book is quite well designed and organised. And although it’s predominantly about waste in India’s cities, there is so much that is relevant to villages and towns. The first chapter covers waste generation; the second chapter is on waste management; the third on legislation; the fourth on finance; the fifth a survey of Indian cities; the sixth on action people are taking or have taken; the final chapter on reinventing how we move forward. The film, which is only 30 minutes, highlights three of the top cities in India whose solid waste management programmes are worth learning from: Alleppy, Kerala; Panaji, Goa; and Mysuru, Karnataka.

There are some really important findings in this book, not that it would be hard to infer these things, but the main point I think any of us interested in waste management needs to consider is incentivising and penalising citizens and companies and organisations alike. This seems to be the common denominator in most of the successful case studies here. Whether it’s in the form of a tax or a fine, people start segregating and stop littering when they know there are consequences of some kind.

Generally, I think this is an important book, but there are a few problems I have with its content:

♼ There is quite a lot of discussion about cities claiming they are striving for or have achieved zero waste. It seems clear that neither they nor the writers have a sense of what that means. Zero waste is fundamentally about reducing consumption and that is a topic totally absent.

♼ Which brings me to my next criticism: the book does not discuss consumption at all–either refusal or reduction. This is something that ideally could have been saved for the final chapter and it’s a huge oversight.

♼ While many chapters, especially of more successful cities, mention their educational programmes, they seem to not see this as a major part of the solution. This, too, could have easily been something to include in the final chapter about how to reinvent our approach to waste management.

♼ Their discussion of the city I live in, Bengaluru, I think is quite lacking. They leave out the tireless work the humans at Solid Waste Management Round Table as well as 2Bins1Bag have been doing to integrate citizen involvement at municipal planning and organising and implementation levels of the new solid waste management rules.

This just shows that there are so many other stories to tell in India and many other aspects of the problem need to be explored to see what’s working and what can be improved upon.

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