Bangaloreans segregate waste to save their city
When I opened my favourite newspaper, The Hindu, this morning, there was a news item that made me sit up with a ‘Well thank God, there’s something to cheer about’ feeling, in spite of the predictable, daily dose of gloom and doom, rape and nasty political goings-on. There’s a new initiative to encourage Bangaloreans to sell their rubbish. Yes, that’s right: someone pays us, in India, to give them our garbage.
Now recycling is as old as the hills in most Asian, African and South American countries. When I was a kid, we couldn’t wait to collect the treasure trove of empty beer bottles after my dad’s friends departed. Beer bottles got a few paise (pennies) more than the vinegar bottles from the kitchen! Newspapers too, were carefully saved and sold to a bikri-wallah, a man who came around every morning with a sack on his back, announcing his arrival to the Kolkata neighbourhood in a loud sing-song chant.
I remember reading post-War British stories where frugality rather than consumerism was the order of the day. A time when people generated less garbage and saved newspapers and jam jars to reuse. Urban Indians, especially the ones who have got rich quickly in the last decade, because of the new global corporates and the IT sector in cities like Bangalore and Bombay, seem to totally disdain recycling of any sort. They are above all that, as they generate and discard mountains of garbage every day. Enough to put the most plastic-polluting people in the world to shame. With internet shopping, everything comes cheaper, but at a huge cost to the environment. Enormous piles of bubble-wrap, Styrofoam and/or several layers of plastic accompany almost every purchase. This includes books, gifts, clothes and door-delivered food. I’m appalled that this generation, the have-everything, want-more folks who are so tech savvy, socially networked and think they know everything too, make not the smallest attempt to segregate the waste they generate. I’m hoping the Bangalore initiative will make a difference and inspire people to segregate to save their city first, if not the planet.
Germany is streets ahead of most of the world when it comes to recycling. In the early nineties, I was amazed at the enormous bins at every apartment complex to separate bottles, paper and plastic. What’s more, everyone used them. And I was staying then, at a student friend’s flat surrounded by lower-income families. Yet even two decades ago, the awareness level was high. At the supermarkets people frowned at you if you asked for a plastic bag. Britain was far better in the early nineties than the US, where garbage compressors pushed down the shocking amount of waste generated, but no-one seemed to give a damn about consumerism or the environment.
So the Bangalore initiative gives me hope. Because it’s here, in our supposedly most tech-savvy city, teeming with IT experts from all over the country, that there is dire need for recycling. This is the population, blessed with IT brains but not ordinary common sense, who consume the worst (for their own health) fast food. Pizza and lamb-burgers packed in plastic and Styrofoam as they work through the night to meet corporate deadlines. There is, of course, a bigger, more urgent need for our corporates to educate their staff. Not merely to pay lip service to Corporate Social Responsibility requirements. But we can take it one step at a time.
I grasp at incremental changes. Because for what it's worth, it’s the small steps forward that will help us move on.
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