This segregation by colour will save us

For the last few months, ever since the muck literally hit the ceiling, and yes, I am referring to Bengaluru’s garbage crisis, a new English word has sunk into the city.

It’s ‘segregation’, referring to segregation of waste.

‘Segregate’ is all over the media now, on radio, newspapers, magazine, TV, blogs, and the social media. It is also in all of the city government’s (BBMP) recent communications on getting the city out of the mess.

Mind you, in a totally different social context, ‘segregate’ is a bad word for a progressing, modern society. And yet for waste management, it is the buzzword now.

Pic: Wikimedia commons

But in the middle of all the rightful emphasis – by environmental activists and authorities alike – on getting everyone to segregate waste, we are missing something critical. Let’s go one step further and talk about ‘segregation by colour’.

Colour coding is critical to institute habits and reinforce them publicly in people’s minds. When we segregate garbage, we typically have to do not just to split into dry waste and wet waste, but it’s three-ways.

Ideally every place where we discard waste should have three bins.

GREEN – for wet waste, which comes from the kitchen/cooking/food, goes to one bin.

BLUE – Dry recyclable waste such as newspapers, cardboard, packing plastics, bottles, cans, etc., should go to a different bin.

RED – Reject waste, which does not belong to the above two categories, including biowaste like diapers and bandages should go into a third bin.

All over the world, three-way segregation of waste is followed, and it is primarily instituted with some form of colour coding. It works just like the way traffic lights are coded in people’s minds. Some societies have moved to four and even five-way segregations. Plastics and aluminium for instance go into separate bins in some ‘foreign’ cities.

Who is colour coding for? Ideally, everyone. Every home could have at least one set of three bins of these colours. Children pick up on these changes very quickly and they could help even police our homes better than adults. Every office’s break room or cafeteria should have these colour coded bins. Plastic water bottles or juice cartons should go BLUE. Food waste should go into GREEN, for instance.

Importantly, we MUST take colour coding public. Take food courts and cafeterias in all our malls, campuses, transportation hubs like airports, railway stations, bus terminals and more. Currently all the waste from the tables — leftovers, paper plates, paper cuts, plastics, bottles, etc. – go into one bin. Instead, facility managers should simply start using the colour coding waste bins too.

Coloured bins in public are a clear and non-confusing sign of that everyone must do their bit. Otherwise, every communication, however well intended, is lost in words. Forget about habit formation.

It does not matter if the waste collection system takes time to get its act together to separately transport different waste to different processing points. Let’s start segregating first.

There will be nuances here. What should we do with batteries? In the absence of separate battery recycling, it will have to go into the red bin for reject waste. But as individuals, homes, businesses, offices, colleges, and campuses start doing at least three-way segregation, we will in time be able to move to four-way and five-way.

In sum, the BBMP should simply make colour coding a part of its approach. This is elementary.

Editor’s note:

This article was written in 2012. However, the High Court of Karnataka has recently suggested 2 bin-1 bag model for segregation in individual houses. The combination with colour-coding is supposed to be: Green bin (wet), Red bin (reject) and a reusable bag for dry waste, based on pilot projects done in East Bangalore area. Read this article for more details. The kit can be manufactured by anyone. Right now, the kit with white reusable bag is available on The website has more details on the model and how it functions.

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