Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waste disposal and waste-watch through community participation

THE WASTE being generated every second is threatening the very existence of human beings. Consumerism has taken a new avatar and people feel that they are instrumental in satisfying the whims and fancies of this commercial incarnation called ‘consumaximum’. We buy things almost mechanically and impulsively. If we look at the things we buy, we may realise that we are wasting much more than what we believe we are wasting.

The packing, casings and consoles that surround the products are heavier and more harmful than the products themselves. And this waste, both degradable and toxically non-degradable, ends up in the surroundings, most of the time on someone else’s premises or by the wayside. Municipal and corporation authorities have a tough time dealing with this waste. Think of the consequences of this accumulating waste - diseases, pollution, ugly heaps marring the urban landscape, stink - the list goes on and on. The villain is domestic waste. The problem is acute in community dwellings like residential areas, apartment blocks and housing colonies.

I have a novel idea to mitigate this problem. We all know that careless and irresponsible waste disposal practices are now a punishable offence. Since it is an offence, we tend to commit it. We deem dumping our waste criminally and carelessly on someone else’s premises or ‘elsewhere’ as heroics. This is a common misbehaviour associated with any community. We cannot stop it unless people take the initiative and stop it themselves. How can we make people stop it? The only way out is “waste-watching”. This has nothing to do with watching whether someone is disposing of waste in the right manner. Waste-watch is a new concept I propose to shame the people concerned. Since we are so obsessed with our integrity and dignity, it is a good idea to exploit this weakness of the people.

By ‘waste watch’ what I mean is this: the municipal authorities will provide biodegradable carry bags to households to dump the waste in. The households will in turn dump the waste-filled carry bags in huge garbage bins installed by the municipal / corporation authorities. The garbage bins will be emptied regularly by the latter.

If ever a waste-filled carry bag is found scattered, the municipal authorities will examine its contents and ascertain which household it originated from. This is not difficult given the small community of residents the project will cover. A used telephone recharge card, a bill, a receipt, a counterfoil, a subscription coupon, an old telephone bill or something of that sort may help in identifying the erring household.

Once the household is identified, the contents will be classified - degradable, non-degradable, home-made and carried-home food items (both remnants and unused), toilet discards, personal care accessories like blade, razors, spent tubes and containers of cleaning solvents and cosmetics, sex accessories like condoms and napkins, etc. Yes, it will be despicable to do it, but it is for the general good of the community. After all, we undertake many abominable examinations everyday!

A detailed list of the contents will be prepared and conveyed to the erring household so it can reform itself. Unless it complies with the rules the following day, the information on their classified waste will be displayed on the community notice board; it will also be made available to those households which abide by the rules and regulations. The findings may shed some light on the abominable habits and practices followed by the erring household.

I call it ‘community polishing’. This exercise can be carried out at periodic intervals. This polishing will do the magic. Once this new system of waste-tracking is carried out, all those who dump waste at street corners will realise that they will be cornered or spotted one day and their integrity and dignity will be questioned by the community. This deterrent will be good enough to force people to abide by the waste management system stipulated by the community.

This system has many advantages. Primarily, we can identify the black sheep of the community very easily. Secondly, it will sensitise people to the need for decent and prompt disposal of waste. Thirdly, the litterbugs will think twice before they dispose of the waste carelessly. For all they know, their bag of waste may be picked by the authorities and examined; in the process, if they find ‘this’ in the waste bag, what will the authorities they think about them? Won’t their very image suffer for sure? And finally, if the erring households have a tendency to use or practise things that are not socially acceptable, (drugs, pans, chewable and patches), this exercise will deter them from picking up such habits, because, if they do not hide their ‘private and confidential wastes’ from the public eye, their credibility and character will suffer.

This proposition will put everyone on guard and they will be forced to stick to the waste management system set by the municipality, community or housing colony. This is going to result in rising health indices, falling medical bills, mounting health awareness levels, neat and tidy surroundings, improved personal and social hygiene, fall in the population of mosquitoes and stray dogs and, finally, the advent of a fool-proof waste disposal and management mechanism.

It may sound impractical. If carried out with enough publicity and public participation, this will work. It may not solve the problem for ever, but it will mitigate it. Residential areas, community dwellings, apartments, villa projects, housing colonies, etc, can be identified to initiate this new exercise. A pilot project can be undertaken.

Since people’s participation holds the key, success is bound to follow. All social reforms fail when people fail or hesitate to cooperate. Here, people are going to get involved and their credibility, personal hygiene and civic consciousness are the elements this system will keep an eye on. It will work. It has to work, for, man never does anything that questions his social position. Never think that he is going to allow the waste generated by his household to destroy his status in society. Waste is not always waste. It makes a lot of virtues.

If you examine the waste that is generated in a given household, you will find the most reliable indicators of the family members’ virtues and vices, personal life, health, respect or lack of it for society, earning and spending habits, likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, personal and community hygiene and many more. If the investigator in you is inquisitive enough, you will even bump against findings such as the level of their happiness, worries, virtues, values and what not. Is waste worth discarding? Waste is a virtue on many counts. What if we use that data to solve a social issue? ‘Waste watch’ and ‘community polishing’ are to be experimented in a phased manner.

By Vaatupura A. Jayaprakash

Source: http://www.merinews.com/catFull.jsp?articleID=128479


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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