Waste segregation at source: it’s easier than we think!


Biodegradable waste in a trashcan.

Is waste segregation truly difficult to achieve? I don’t think so. This is what I wrote for Citizen Matters in November 2009 on how intimidated I was the moment I was told more than five types wastes had to be segregated at source!

Dry waste, wet waste, metal waste, e-waste, bio-waste, plastic waste… How many dustbins should I keep at home to segregate these many waste matters?

This is what struck me when I read a circular from the Brigade Regency Owners’ Association, making waste segregation compulsory and for a moment I thought I would crumple it up and dump it in the dustbin. Brigade Regency Apartments is where I live. Being a resident here, I felt “these guys are stretching it a bit too far”. How will I train the domestic help and who has so much of time and patience anyway?

All rationalised; well done. The next moment, somewhere in the back of my mind, some niggling thoughts started and did not stop until I began to reflect:  “haven’t I always bragged about myself as an eco-friendly person?”

Yes, I do not spit on the roads, nor do I litter them. I do compost kitchen waste dump the rest in another bin. I use vinegar, lime, and gram flour to clean the kitchen and spray vinegar to shine my glassware, stoneware, steel utensils and even the TV screen instead of buying harmful chemical cleaners for convenience. I have replaced all the dirty yellow bulbs with CFLs. I have not air-conditioned my flat and not do I plan to do so in future. I use plastic only when necessary and hate frozen food/tin food intensely.

I look for the Ethical Trade logo and buy local produce as much as possible. I carry a jute bag and prefer the roadside subziwallah to the convenience stores that seek refuse in the cold storage to stock aged potatoes. But I do insert that large imported olive oil bottle into my shopping cart since I can’t resist sprinkling it on brussels sprouts. I even have a few creepers meandering through the railings in the balcony that help me connect my fingers with the earth because the Mahatma once said: “To forget how to dig the Earth and to tend the soil is to forget ourselves”.

All this may have made me a 100 per cent eco-friendly person only if I were living on a perfect planet not pounded by the disasters of global warming. I would have lay wrapped up in my own microcosm of self-righteousness forever if I were not directly responsible for generating the waste that brings out blisters on the face of the earth. But we are living in a different world—one that’s struggling to keep its creatures from going extinct; one that’s slipping into a deep abyss because somebody once said “here and now” and all of us rushed to buy that from a departmental store in a tin. It’s sinking and that’s true.

When there is no denying this truth, then why this resistance? Why can’t I at least give it a try?

Then it began – putting all the dry waste first into one large bin and then separating it. A few days into this exercise, I realised that we do not normally generate metal and e-waste on a daily basis and hence, no need to rack my brains over it. The first priority is paper and plastic waste. Since old newspapers/magazines lay in a corner for recycling and paper shreds end up in the kitchen waste, it boiled down to only two bins in the living room—one for bio-waste and another for plastic waste. Yet another for collecting the kitchen waste is out in the balcony. Now I would need only one more to dump the metal and e-waste which can be further segregated only once in a fortnight or a month.

Segregation mission accomplished! The best result: no need to beg for bigger plastic bags at grocery stores and hoard them to line the bins; better still, no need to pay through the nose to buy a big bundle of them. These days, when I am out to shop, I say categorically (and yes, a bit aloud): “no, no. I don’t need plastic bags. Put it here in my bag.”

What seemed like a monumental task took just a matter of days to achieve. It was all about making up my mind and making it a habit and that happened so automatically. These days, when I see my two-year-old girl separating plastic and bio waste and carefully putting them into the designated bins, I think to myself: “it can’t begin sooner than this!”

(To read how this was actually achieved at a community level in Brigade Regency, Bangalore, click here.)

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