As a part of my work with SadaZero, I was to accompany the pourakarmikas on their Saturday dry-waste collection routine. I had to note down the houses who weren’t following the segregation protocol, and subsequently make an attempt to “convert” them, the latter being a herculean task as mindsets are extremely difficult to change.
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Sadazero is a voluntary, community organisation, aiming at 100% waste segregation, and making Sadashivanagar a model neighbourhood for the rest of Bengaluru, with whom I have intermittently worked with over the past three years.
We rendezvoused at the collection point at 11 am and the drive began an expected fifteen minute late. As I sat next to Kalayappa – the pourakarmika with whom I was to tour the entire 9th Main, with one leg sticking out of the musty auto, I began to realise the difficulty these men faced on a daily basis; how hard their lives actually were. They work daily from 9 am to 5 pm, among stagnating junk from aristocratic households, and earn a meagre Rs. 5000 per month, with minimal job security and benefits. Yet they are determined to work hard for the environment; all they need is a little encouragement.
Anyway, we set off up the street at a brisk pace and arrived at our first target on 9th Main. My companion informed me that the owners never segregated their waste. I whipped out my pen and notepad, trying to look professional about it, and scribbled down the house number. My accomplice – who, up until then was noticeably distracted and engrossed in status quo – obviously impressed with my sophistication, immediately warmed to me and started making small-talk.
Unwilling to segregate!
As we continued on our journey, I began to notice things which I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed: the hostile side of the Sadashivanagar opulent. The sale of dry-waste is a good way for the pourakarmikas to do their bit for the environment and earn some much-needed money in the process. Unfortunately, thanks to residents’ apathy, they are denied.
Waste segregation is essentially a simple process. The waste is separated at source into dry-waste (plastic, paper, metal), e-waste (glass, CD’s etc.) and wet-waste (kitchen waste). The wet-waste is composted, while the dry-waste is sold to the scrap-dealers who transport it to the recycling plants, where they are recycled and reused.
The waste land-fills at Mavallipura, on the outskirts of Bangalore, receive over 3000 tonnes of waste per day. Unfortunate residents of the accursed place suffer from incalculable potent diseases thanks to our lassitude. The 3000 tonnes of waste per day can be reduced by up to 90% if waste segregation is adopted wholeheartedly.
A little ways down the road, my companion began using me to his advantage. Normally, when one tries entering a house in a posh neighbourhood, he is first confronted by a haughty watchman. After a couple of minutes of arguing, he is let through and he encounters a snooty maid, who interrogates him at length like a murder suspect on trial.
If he is extremely lucky, he will engage his target within the hour. However, whenever Kalayappa ran into such a situation, he pointed to the official-looking teenager, sitting in his auto, clutching a notebook, and as if my magic, was let into the house to demand his waste from the nonchalant owners.
Waste segregation not adopted by individual houses
As we breezed through the locality in our noisy ride, I began to notice a pattern in the functioning of the system. An apartment complex we visited segregated to near perfection, probably in fear of “What will my neighbours say if I don’t?” Most individual houses, however, excluding the rare perfectionists, possessed no such compelling motive. Of course, there were a couple of other apartment complexes who turned a deaf ear, despite innumerable requests submitted over the past three years.
The one-hour drive was, overall, a humbling experience. Noticing the tiny glint of joy in my companion’s eyes every time he encountered a house that had segregated completely – as he relished the thought of helping to conserve our environment while earning those extra few rupees – would make all of us question the magnitude of our problems, and how much we blow them out of proportion.
As our journey came to an end, my companion looked at me with renewed hope in his eyes, believing in the power of my notebook and pen, praying that I would emerge successful in “converting” at least a few households.
A little empathy and effort on our part can go a long way in preserving our own environment for the future generations, aiding the less fortunate and bailing out those afflicted in Mavallipura. For those who believe that the system is faulty, I can tell you from personal experience that it isn’t. It epitomises Chuck Palahniuk’s theory of “The Bureaucracy of Anarchy”, or “Organized Chaos”; it may not seem very efficient, but it gets the job done. Just segregate. It’s a “win-win” situation all around.