Value in Waste

Value in Waste

Thane city generates 800 tons of waste everyday, of which about 150 tons is non-biodegradable. A non-biodegradable substance is unable to break down, and retains its form for an extended period of time. For example, when buried, some kinds of plastic can last without decomposition for 700 years. According to Robert Edwards, Toxics Campaigner in India for Greenpeace International, "Plastics are choking the life out of India. Over 50 per cent of all plastic produced in India is used for packaging. Most of this is discarded once used, and in a country where traditionally waste was largely unknown, this has caused a massive environmental problem". Although most non-biodegradable substances can be recycled, low levels of consumer awareness make it difficult to put this in practise.

A new programme unleashed by city NGOs aims to create better waste management in the city. Nicknamed "Waste is wealth", student-welfare group Jidnyasa and eco-NGO Vrukshavalli are collaborating with schools to improve the waste management competence of Thane’s residents. To start of, 12 private schools in and around Vartak Nagar and Wagle Estate have been engaged in the project. Large drums donated by the Rotary Club of North End, have been provided to the schools and the students have being asked to bring in non-biodegradable waste from their homes and neighbourhood and discard the same in these drums. Next, teachers of these schools will be trained to coordinate with rag pickers (known as human scavengers) who pick up plastic bottles, carry bags, pens, and all such waste material. The schools will buy this waste from the rag pickers and will then sell the it to scrap dealers, or in some cases, directly to recycling factories. In this way, not only will they reduce the burden of separation on TMC, but will also create value in doing so. In the process, students will learn that what they think of as waste and of no value, in fact does have value.

The programme, which began in the first week of February, will be soon extended to TMC schools and then larger schools around the city. "If all schools participate in the programme, then it might be possible to separate as much as 100 tons of non-biodegradable waste at the source itself," says Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa. Vasant Bagad, principal of Savitridevi Chirani Vidayala and Sandhya Dharde, a teacher from the same school, and Jayant Joshi from Jidnyasa’s Science Wing are the main coordinators of the project.

TMC’s campaign last year urging residents to separate the waste at source produced a lukewarm response. Therefore even today the most of the waste collected contains both degradable and non-degradable stuff, making it very difficult for TMC to dispose of the collection in the right manner. This project is targeting students, who are easier to convert and make good evangelists. Come summer vacations, and Jidnyasa plans to organised workshops for students to educate them in managing waste in a manner that is not harmful to the environment.    

The Lucknow incident a few years ago, when hundreds of cows died as a result of suffocation due to plastic bags, woke up authorities from a slumber, to take note of the hazard that improper disposal of plastics is creating. Before the problem assumes unmanageable proportions, let’s all consciously become better waste managers. Because, if we don’t, some day it will be our turn to be suffocated.

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