Monday, June 15, 2009

The Goa Garbage Times

We Indian’s are a very funny lot. We tend to have very short memories about past events. In 1994, Surat went down in the annals of history as the city, which witnessed one of the worst cases of the Plague epidemic. One of the primary reasons for the epidemic was the accumulated filth and garbage, which acted as a breeding ground for rodents. Surat was an extreme case but such incidences are fast becoming the norm in most of our cities and towns.

Goa today is literally buried in garbage. The joke goes that if you stay in a village you either burn your garbage in your own backyard or worse, load it into your car and take it to one of the cities or to a national highway to furtively dump it. If you live in a city, the town municipality piles the cities garbage into overflowing trucks to dump it in one of the nearby villages.

Garbage experts estimate that on average every person in a developing nation produces one pound of trash per day, compared to three times that amount in a developed nation. Already the world's most populous nation, China generates 190 million tons of trash per year, more than the US, and by 2030, the World Bank estimates, that figure will jump to 480 million tons. Garbage is one commodity which everyone creates in plenty but one which no one wants to owe responsibility to.

Household garbage can be broadly classified as wet and dry garbage. Wet garbage is normally foodstuff and other perishable items while dry garbage is mainly paper, plastic, glass and metal waste such as tin cans. Other ways of classification include biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, recyclable and non-recyclable waste and so on.

‘Mass burn’ incineration is being widely used to convert garbage into electrical power. Germany is one of the best examples for this. However, the environmental impacts of this technology are huge. The Incineration of garbage can result in release of harmful dioxins into the environment. Clean burn technology can trap and filter out these toxins but is rarely used as the costs are too great.

In India the most common form of garbage disposal is to use the landfill method where in garbage is compacted and stored for life by ultimately covering the landfill with soil. The main problem with this method is the leachate and Methane gas created by it. If not properly handled these can result in ground water contamination as was evident from the Curcca waste dump incident.

So how can individuals contribute to reducing the garbage menace. One way would be to ensure that wet garbage gets treated in our homes itself. Composting is the most effective and environmentally clean way of dealing with ones own garbage in ones own backyard. Even people living in flats can use vermiculture composting using composting bins. At the community level, mass biological degradation techniques like biogas may be used.

Segregation and recycling can be effectively practiced to handle dry garbage. Most metals, glass and paper can be easily recycled on an industrial scale if properly segregated. The best case in point for this method is Rio De Genero, Brazil where 95% of soft drink cans are recycled. Segregation needs to be practiced by each home to make this technique successful.

Plastics are the achelees heel for any garbage management program. In the financial year 2003-04, about 42 million tons of plastic was used in India. Burning plastic waste produces toxic smoke. Dumping wet garbage in a plastic bag is the worst thing any individual can do as it ends up in the stomach of stray cows and dogs.

A better solution to the problem ,as proposed by Mr. Atanu Day, would be to charge a disposal fee for every plastic bag manufactured, say of Rs. 0.10.This fee would get passed on to the consumer. The next step would be to have collection centers, where for every plastic bag turned in, Re 0.08 is reimbursed. People automatically will start using less number of plastic bags (Simple economics 101: price goes up, quantity demanded goes down) and even if they use them, they will have an incentive to recycle.

Many state governments have put a ban on the use of plastic bags, but plastic is still used in many other forms.Research continues accross the globe on how to handle plastics.The best example is a process which converts plastic into fuel, developed by Prof. Alka Zadgaonkar from an engineering college in Nagpur.Limiting plastic usage is the best solution to this.Simple measures like taking a cloth bag for shopping can go a long way.

Privatization of garbage handling can also work wonders .For example, in Chennai, Veolia Environnement has been doing great work but the same strategy has miserably failed in Delhi due to political misadventure.

Commercial establishments like restaurants are also huge wet garbage generators. Privatization will mean that such establishments will have to pay for handling garbage thus reducing the amount of garbage in the end.

School kids are the future citizens of our nation. Inculcating good garbage handling practices in them can do wonders in controlling the garbage problem. Almost every E-mail user today has been plagued by E-garbage that is Spam mail in his /her inbox. Spam can be managed by pressing the delete key or just a few mouse clicks. The ‘Delete’ key can do wonders in the cyber-world but no such 'Delete' key exists in the real world, which can handle our ever-growing garbage crisis. For this, the attitude of people towards garbage must change, from their garbage being the municipalities or their neighbor’s problem to their own problem that can be tackled in-house.

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