The problem of waste is one that almost every single one of us faces and no one seems to have a solution for. We all create waste. We also all realize that there is a literal and figurative mountain of waste all around us. How then do we come up with apt ways in which to tackle this issue, both individually as well as together?
At the root of the problem is the fact that most of us do not take responsibility for the waste we add to the planet. The lower income groups, those with smaller homes can see and experience the problem all around them. They are more connected with their surroundings – condiments from home are bought from a local vendor, milk is collected in their own vessels and garbage is dropped off directly to the municipal trucks pick up point. Much like our forefathers. Their food came from their own fields, leaving little need for packaging.
On the contrary, most of us living in apartments get into our cars and drive to a supermarket and bring back heavily packaged groceries stuffed into dozens of plastic bags. Our tetra-packed milk, bottled water, metallized film wrapped chocolates, candy and chips, glass-jarred processed foods, are all put into plastic bags. Most of us will consume what’s inside and throw the packaging into the bin. The garbage is then collected by a ragpicker every morning and sent away. We rarely ever come in contact with a pile of waste sitting right at our doorstep. This leads to an ‘not in my backyard’ attitude.
But increased consumerism has led to the rise of a relatively new industry – the reuse and recycling business. Notice how we neatly store glass bottles or newspapers in a corner. But who told us to do this? Did our grandmothers or mothers really tell us this? Or did the government at some point lay out a mandate? No. It was just a system that fell into place purely out of need. Someone, somewhere, realized that newspapers or any paper could be mashed into a pulp and be remade into recycled paper. As word got around, people realized that they could earn money by selling this material to those who recycled it. Thus were born the middle men of the waste business, the ‘bhangarwallas’ who began to trade in waste. The irony lies in the fact that we label something waste that is in fact of much value to a lot of people.
It’s fairly obvious that if a material has an economic value attached to it, then it is unlikely to enter a landfill as it will be picked up much before. It is common to see rag pickers standing waist-deep in muck trying to collect glass and plastic bottles. They know that these materials are worth something. Sadly, we have not yet reached a time when people stop throwing garbage out the window just because they care for ‘mother earth’. And this is the reason why we need to ensure that every single item of waste circulating in our environment has financial value.
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