Is Zero Waste Possible?

February 14, 2011
Amritapuri Campus

India is the second fastest growing economy in the world.

TrashMore money means more spending. Will this also mean more trash?

With a population of 1.15 billion possibly creating larger amounts of trash, proper recycling and waste disposal are now more important in India than ever before.

Household trash may only be a small percentage of the total amount of waste generated by our factories and by larger organizations. However, each one of us acting to reduce our trash at homes can be an important first step.

In most Indian homes, biodegradable waste forms the bulk of the total trash that is thrown away. Instead of throwing it away, biodegradable waste can be composted, either by individuals or by communities. This doesn’t require much effort.

Such waste can be easily converted to rich manure that can be used in farms, community and kitchen gardens.

Biodegradable WasteThe nutrients from vegetable and fruit peels, left-over and spoiled food, can replenish and nourish soils, making them alive and healthy.

After all, isn’t this what our grand-parents and great-grand-parents did, if they lived in rural India? Traditionally, in India, very little was wasted; everything was put to good use.

In the Indian cities of today, we have to act to keep this culture alive.

We have to recycle the paper and plastic waste we generate also. These two materials are widely used for packaging, a lot of which gets thrown away.

The good news is that it can all be recycled. The need is to separate recyclable waste from biodegradable waste and clean where necessary, before recycling.

Waste Disposal

For instance, did you know that in most places, one can collect washed plastic milk packets and sell them to a recycler for cash in the same way that old newspapers are sold?

Compared to the 1-5% rate of recycling of plastics in the West, India is said to have a 60% rate of recycling. The credit for this goes to the lowly rag pickers who sort through our trash, retrieving anything of value that they can sell to recyclers for money.

Can we not make their work easier and sort our trash at source ourselves?

Zero WasteThe need of the hour is for local governments to develop proper waste management and recycling systems that facilitate this.

Burning trash is not a solution. Burning releases dioxins which are among the most toxic substances known to man. Burying trash pollutes the soil and ground water; this is no good either.

In the West, the paradigm of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is being offered as the solution to the growing environmental crises.

In India, we have traditionally always reused and recycled things. The disposable culture that creates a greater amount of trash is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Will traditional wisdom now prevail, so we too can revert to the old ways and create less waste? Perhaps even zero waste? It is possible, if only we try …

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