A man standing in front of a shop thrust a handbill into my hand. Reluctantly, I took it and read it. It was an advertisement for a product I wasn’t interested in. I looked for a bin. In the entire stretch of the road no trash can was in sight. I was ashamed to throw litter behind a lamp post and carried the bill home. My wife scolded me for adding to the trash at home.
Later, I detected that citizens were throwing plastic bags containing waste behind trees and lamp posts when nobody was watching. Municipal sweepers swept the roads and garnered litter on roadside. Municipal trucks came at their leisure and collected the garbage. In the meantime, the wind blew away plastic covers.
Garbage disposal has become a problem in small towns and cities. A relative in Kerala explained that at dusk or dawn, he went to a sparsely populated area and dropped the garbage on the roadside. “What happens if somebody on the street sees you throwing garbage?” I asked. “I go on a motorcycle and speed away after throwing the trash. People from other streets come to my street to throw their garbage. So I am not feeling guilty,” said he, adding, “If somebody on foot is caught red-handed by residents of a street, he is given a tongue-lashing or a thrashing.”
Citizens throw kitchen waste in neighbouring vacant plots. Municipalities also sneak in wastes into neighbouring towns. Trucks sometimes drive into bordering villages and dump the waste. Occasionally, villagers stop the trucks and call the police. Bangalore is dumping some of its garbage in Mandur village. When the villagers protested because of the pollution and stench, the Bangalore civic body literally begged them to allow at least 200 trucks daily. There are reports that when the limit is exceeded, the truckers bribe the villagers to unload. Municipal waste of Western countries is occasionally offloaded into Indian ports declared as waste paper.
Most civic bodies have not educated their citizens to segregate wet waste and dry waste for recycling. Hence, one sees non-biodegradable plastic waste littering farms and roads and clogging sewage ducts. Dogs and cows search for leftovers in plastic covers. Rag pickers sift garbage dumps for valuables like bottles, plastics and metals that can be sold.
At a farmhouse in a Kerala village, food was served on plantain leaves. When the leaves were thrown near the fence, cattle came and devoured the leaves. An inmate explained, “We cannot depend on the village panchayat to clear the garbage. We use only cloth/jute bags to buy provisions. Plastic covers are not brought home. We generate only biodegradable waste which is used to enrich our farm. Hence, you don’t see plastic covers adorning our fields.”
Garbage could be segregated as wet and dry waste to produce tonnes of nutrients-rich manure. Treated effluent water can be used to irrigate farms and gardens. Citizens and civic bodies should learn to treat garbage as an asset.