“People don’t want to engage with climate change because it’s not sexy. The effect is felt in out-of-way places on unseen people. But when the impact is really felt, people like us, who frankly have a carbon footprint equivalent to anyone in the West, will be hit the worst. We are absolutely not climate resilient. Take away our electricity and we are dead.”
– Author Amitav Ghosh, as TOI Guest Editor, on 02 Dec 2015.
An introduction is certainly not required about the dangerous pollution levels that we are living amidst today. Rather let’s straightway just face it that this is the consequence of all our collective irresponsible actions. We have been just too happy-go-lucky, discovering newer ways and inventing newer technologies to make our fast paced lives more convenient and stylish and in the process, we have gone too far against Nature. But the law of Nature always prevails, so ‘what we sow, so we reap’. As we are now running out of our luck in this deadly race, it is only wiser for us to take a U-turn and start coming back home to ‘greener’ and more sustainable ways. All the accumulation of material possessions will be futile, if we can not reclaim a cleaner and healthier environment for ourselves and our future generations. More than the outcome at news making world summits on climate change, the fate of this planet depends on the net total of all individuals’ actions, as we are definitively co-creating this world with our own thoughts and actions. Standing at the crossroads, more than our expertise and resources (which we have in plenty), we have to gear up our intentions, to choose the path of sustainability, for our own survival.
If we start to look at our immediate environment, we have to perceive the prevailing city smog, river water pollution, soil contamination, filthy surroundings etc., in the light of our own day-to-day actions, mostly irresponsible and ignorant. But in this matter, ignorance is not bliss and hence we have to reform ourselves in the way we generate and dispose off garbage into the environment from our very end, every single day.
Basic Understanding of present waste disposal
To derive the ‘dos and don’ts’, it is important for us to broadly understand what happens to the waste that we generate everyday in our homes, offices, hospitals and other places that we inhabit, and how they are processed and disposed off.
- Every morning our colony kudewalas (they should rather be called safaiwalas) collect garbage from our homes and dumps it at the dhalao, usually placed right outside the boundary of a residential colony.
- The municipal Corporation vehicles collect them and carry them to landfills, where they are weighed and dumped, leveled and a layer of soil is laid over it (imagine the high landfills, which sans the stink and the flocking eagles, one would easily mistake for hills right in the middle of a city). In Delhi alone, about 8500 metric tones of daily garbage is dumped into the landfills.
- Some corporations even outsource this job to private contractors. At about Rs 300-350 per truckload and 600-700 truck trips daily to each landfill (in Delhi), this has become a lucrative business churning lakhs of money daily, out of the garbage that we generate and dispose off without a thought. As a result, there are a whole lot of garbage mafias in operation who stand in the ways of organized reforms.
- The mixed wastes in the landfills are then incinerated in the Waste-to-Energy (WTE) plants, releasing toxins into the air and producing not-too-rich compost.
- Landfill gas (or LFG, roughly 50% methane, 50% CO2) is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic materials in landfills, and gravely damages the ozone layer.
- Random burning of unattended garbage piles, causes severe air pollution and health hazards, more so in the middle of densely habituated areas.
- More so often, filthy and stinking unattended garbage piles (not to forget, the poor cows who feed on them also consume the plastic bags and die of the consequences) are quite a common sight in every place in India, including the metropolitans.
So, if we realize it, we are trapped in this vicious cycle of ineffective waste generation and decomposition and the only way out is to segregate at source and compost organic waste. If we compost our organic garbage from the kitchen and accumulate dry wastes like paper, wood, metal, rubber etc (there is no segregated collection from door to door) and dispose them off only periodically (fortnightly, monthly as per quantity) to reliable dealers who will place them for recycling, then there will be hardly any waste to go into the dustbins everyday. Do we even realize the huge impact that we make through this wise act? We can completely eliminate the landfills and yes, we do not need them. All waste, dry or wet, already would be positioned for recycling or decomposing, at the right place, at the right time. Having said this, we also have to identify and out rightly eliminate items like plastic bags, diapers, sanitary napkins (which takes around 500-800 years to break down) from our lives by switching to more sustainable options.
We have to proceed into the ‘green’ path with a very open mind – inspiring others, being inspired, knowledge sharing, learning newer things to implement. At every step, we have to mind our carbon footprints and reduce it to the minimal. Anything that is non-biodegradable, non-recyclable, or which consumes unreasonably high amount of power to recycle and emits toxic byproducts in the process, every such process and product has to come under our own scanner, while making personal lifestyle choices. So, today if we start to do our bit, collectively we can make a huge difference in our immediate futures.
Tips to reduce one’s carbon footprints
This is a random list of few initiatives that we can take and certainly this can not be limited only to the following:
- Say NO to plastic – they choke wildlife, they don’t break down in landfills (or in oceans), they add to our demand for oil, and they aren’t easy to recycle. Always carry a cloth bag for shopping vegetables, groceries etc. (Food for thought – why do we need the typical one rupee candies, chocolates, toffees at all, they are wrapped in plastics and
- Segregate at source and compost organic waste. You can talk to your neighbors to develop community compost, and use the manure for parks in your residential colony.
- Switch to sustainable options for sanitary napkins and diapers.
- Use one side used papers for rough printouts at home and workplace.
- Donate clothes which are usable to NGOs, to distribute them among the needy. Old clothes can also be used to make carry bags and stationery holders.
- Develop reliability on organic products and kitchen ingredients for bodycare.
- If you are organizing an event/ceremony at home or workplace, ensure zero food waste. Distribute it to the needy through proper channels/NGOs working in this field.
- Dispose off expired medicines/ antibiotics responsibly. Recent newspaper article during Chhath puja revealed how River Yamuna is polluted with high levels of antibiotic drugs and floor cleaners.
- Car pool or use public transports as much as possible.
- Conserve water and electricity at home and workplace.
- Travel responsibly. Do not litter.
And the list goes on and on …..
So, be proud to take the initiative and be Happy-go-Green now!
Some food for thought
Prakriti finally wrote a letter to the Editor of one of her favorite monthly magazines, saying:
“Dear Mr. Editor, I am a regular reader of your magazine and loved this month’s issue as much as the earlier ones. But I will value it even more, if it comes without the wrappings of a dangerous polythene sheet which does not break down at all, in even hundreds of years. Your brand does not need this shield at all. Let’s talk about our carbon footprints now.”
There will be a lot of more things, for us to question on the way and raise our concerns about.
P.S. References are taken from newspaper articles, internet articles and also informal meetings with various people, who have shared their insights, eye-opening facts, food for thoughts and have left me inspired immensely.
Please leave your comments, queries, ideas, insights, inspirations etc with us. Team Vatavaran is open to participate with you and also include your initiatives in the upcoming newsletter, if it fits the bill.
Dipali Patnaik, volunteer at Vatavaran