Waste not. Not in my backyard.

Photo: Rashi Goel

The phrase ‘Not in my backyard’ originated in the 1950’s when the Western world was just beginning to recognise the harmful effects of different aspects of development. It is pejorative and connotes that the person using it recognises that something needs to be done but he doesn’t want it to be done next to him.

Where does all our waste go? Where can it go? Usually cities dispose of solid waste in landfills outside their city limits, Not all cities are able to locate lands which are not inhabited and invariably this means that the city waste will be land up in somebodys back or front yard even.
For the city of Pune, Devachi Urali has been this location and the impacts of landfill on the villagers of Devachi Urali have been disastrous. Pune generates neary 1700 tonnes of waste daily, part of which is supposed to be segregated and recycled. Recently the residents of Devachi Urali moved the court at the National Green Tribunal and asked that the city of Pune take responsibility for its own waste. The face off between rural residents and urban municipal corporations led to more stringent waste management rules for urban residents and is now leading to visible change in neighbourhoods.
The issue of boundaries between cities and villages, districts and between states gets exacerbated especially when one parties waste goes into the others land limits. But in reality the impacts of waste cannot be limited to political boundaries – air pollution travels, water pollution travels in the oceans from one shore to another and with global trade even soil contaminants enter the food chain of other countries.
The Earth is one planet and was designed to be connected! Some impacts are seen immediately on the ones living nearest but eventually distance does not protect us for too long.
Ironically, most urban residents have no clue where their waste goes – very few question where the garbage truck takes all our waste and even fewer have taken the time to see what happens to the place where it all gets dumped eventually. Just as children don’t know these days where their food comes from they don’t know where their waste goes. At Devachi Urali, the government prohibited visits eventually !
The same issue of distance is also reflected in the processes of recycling. When the World Trade Centers remains were to be recycled they came to Chennai, Ships from all over the world come to Alang in Gujarat to be broken down and Europe sends its tetrapak waste to India to be recycled.  San Francisco boasts of its goals to become a zero waste city but when we inquire as to who is doing all the recycling of their waste, we find out that it gets shipped to their world countries.
This is because recycling is cheap in India, labour is easily available and the stringent safety rules that would make recycling unprofitable in the West are not maintained in India. Life itself is cheap in India.
The solution starts at home. It starts from each one of us looking at our own waste and taking ownership for it. It starts from reducing our waste to a minimum and using objects and products consciously knowing the waste they will create. From our home to our society to our neighbourhood and city, we need to all be unafraid of owning our waste and taking responsibility for its disposal.
Here are some thoughts on how we can start to bring this consciousness into our lives:
1.     Watch what you throw – do a waste audit and keep track of where the bulk of your waste is coming from.
2.     Compost wet waste and use it for plants at home. Treat kitchen waste as a precious resource.
3.     Start to make your children conscious at a young age.
4.     Initiate a compost pit in your society.
5.     Carry a shopping bag with you at all times.
6.     Follow the rag pickers one day and track where your waste goes. Visit a municipal waste sorting shed.
The planet has no backyard and it would be unreal to think of sending our waste to the moon. The only way is to redesign our world and lifestyles so we don’t have a mountain of waste to dispose off. Rather than hide something in the ground or send it far away we need to look at it right when we drop it into the bin and find a way of managing it right here.

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