When Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan was kicked off on October 2 last, one of my Facebook friends reacted to this post and said, “Let’s first learn to put all the waste into one bin and then think of segregating it.”
Let’s analyse the usual justifications behind the urge to dump it into one bin:
- What matters is cleanliness. Our first priority should be litter-free surroundings.
- We Indians are this way. Nothing much will change no matter what we do. At least let’s keeps our surroundings clean and stop littering around our houses.
- Waste is waste. The recyclable value is too low to be bothered about segregation.
No.3 is coming out of ignorance. Anybody who is into source separation knows the tangible (monetary included) and intangible benefits of all that we call “waste”. This attitude will undergo transformation once the people decide to give segregation a try.
No.1 and 2 are nothing but outright hypocrisy pervading all classes of people. It keeps recycling and circulating and reinventing itself, non-stop. What is being termed “cleanliness” here can be questioned in multiple ways because cleanliness, in its true sense, doesn’t mean the absence of litter alone. “Cleanliness” as a concept was overarching even in the pre-packaging days. That’s why the Mahatma said, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. We all know that godliness doesn’t limit itself to ridiculously small physical areas and selfish concerns.
In the current context, “cleanliness” needs to be analysed thoroughly from a wholly different viewpoint. A lot of change has occurred, for the worse, since the 90s with soaring consumerism and its natural corollary—booming packaging industries which often churn out non-biodegradable materials like plastic, thermocol, etc.
If the waste that we generate was biodegradable as it was in the pre-plastic era, then the need for segregation would not have been so dire as it is now. Since it is not so, we have to change the way we look at waste and cleanliness in the present context and accordingly change our ways of generating and disposing it as well. Apart from anti-litter campaigns, we must pay attention to the character and the quantity of the waste generated and how sensibly it is recycled and disposed of so that someone else doesn’t suffer the consequences of it.
Otherwise, we will never go beyond the “let’s first learn to put it in one bin” phase and reach the “then think of segregating it” phase. We don’t know when that “then” will announce its own arrival.