Friday, August 24, 2007

The pleasure of being slightly good...

Guilt is my constant companion. I think it has to do with listening to nuns for all of your school life, but I'm willing to lay the blame at other quarters as well - like my mom, for instance (who, interestingly, was also with nuns thru her school years), female hormones, or finally, reluctantly, my own demented self. Whatever its source, guilt drives me nuts, and because I'm basically not a doer, it sits and froths inside me like 3-day-old dahi.

My biggest bugbear in recent years - among other things of course - has been the amount we throw and how it clogs the world. More so now, since my recently-acquired small stake in the future, who just turned 3! Also, I did a piece for the Mumbai Mirror on rag pickers and recycling where I learned more about the Deonar Dumping Ground and the crazy task of segregation that rag pickers undertake at great risk to their health, for ridiculously low earnings. Then Amit got a look into the huge recycling industry in Dharavi and told me about the amazing amount of plastic and polyallsorts that land up there. It's staggering to think of what would happen to this city if Dharavi's recyclers stopped, or for that matter, if the rag pickers weren't so assiduous.

All in all, I was prime for the kill, but being a creature of great inertia, I was reluctant to take that fatal step and get the two bins; to join the ranks of The Segregators.

And because finally, two questions remained in my mind:
1. How to educate the bai and cook?
2. How to deal with the fact that the dust lady at the doorstep politely takes your two bins and pours them into one?

Ans. 1.: It's not rocket science - domestic help are smart and can pick up the ola-sukha (wet-dry in Marathi) funda quickly, especially if you discuss it and look over their shoulders a bit for a couple of days. Same goes for kids once you tell them how cool it is to be a wee bit concerned about the world. Failing that, wallop some sense into them (catch them young enough, and you won't need to - it'll become a habit).

Ans 2. Continue giving the wet garbage to the dust collector in the building, and collect the dry waste for about 7 days and give it to your maid/dust collector/designated rag-picker from Stree Mukti Sanghatana. 

What to do if the SMS doesn't service your building / area? Ask your help - your maid, your dust-collector. Chances are they would be happy to take all the non-recyclable, plastic junk your family generates in a week. They can sell it/barter it (for a pittance, mostly; plastic waste like tubes, plastic bottles, lids, etc., can be exchanged for things like garlic). You would be surprised at the amount of plastic junk your family generates - even if you are, like us, fairly conscious in your use and disposal of plastic.

Just be careful to rinse things like tetra paks and milk packets before you put them in the recycling bin, and don't throw things like broken bottles in there.

The BMC keeps threatening to make it compulsory, but I think it's gone the way of the ban on plastic bags. Poof! A nice little mirage that turned out to be.

At the end of the day, we could do tremendous service to rag-pickers and the environment, if, as generators of garbage, we segregated it at source. It's not hard to learn or do, and here's the Stree Mukti site. It's a collective of a group of women rag pickers, one of who can be designated to come collect your plastic on a weekly basis. The SMS people can also answer your queries as to what precisely is dry and what is wet, etc. You can also check this site for a ready reckoner on what goes into which bin!

Why am I crowing about my good garbage behaviour? Because it's the morning after n's 3rd b'day and usually I am wracked with guilt staring at the mountains of plastic that comes from gift boxes, glasses, packing, etc, etc. I still feel rotten looking at the amount we throw, but just knowing that we're being a wee bit more careful this time round, I felt a bit less tortured...

Segregating garbage at home teaches your kids to think about the city and its people and issues. It gives them a real sense of ownership about ecological and environmental solutions. I sometimes think that we Indians lack a sense of reaching out, of doing something simply because it is good-for-the-world and not asking the eternal what's-in-it-for-me question befor we do it. We simply don't do acts of selfless civic good. So I'll give money to the building religious event and I'll do x, y or z, because it directly benefits me. No, dude, honestly, being a responsible citizen benefits you more in the longer run!

Please pardon the soap-box stuff - it took me two years of inertia and thinking about segregating my garbage before I got my act together and started doing it. And hence the excitement!



have you seen this wonderful film by agnes varda called 'gleaners and i'? a wonderful documentary for anyone interested in garbage and/or films. i still wonder what to do with films which are garbage.... hmmm....

Space Bar said...

Anita: truly scary, no?

I've seen the local garbage dump in my area (which overflows ever since the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation told Civic Exnora, thanks, but we can manage. It has medical waste: cotton, something that looks like dialysis bags that I saw a kid from the basti dragging around behind him as if it was a toy.

Hazardous waste. And we have no idea how to dispose fo it, even assuming it all gets out of our house in acceptable ways.

anita & amit said...

OMG, Spacebar, that is a scary sight - truly one you don't want to see... sort of like watching the construction site behind my mom's building and seeing babies, toddlers, kids playing near a 40-foot-trench meant for the tower's basement parking... siiiiiiiigh...