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Certain things that are not needed around the house are kept aside to be sold to the kabadiwala or the man who buys old items. These items are newspapers, used bottles, magazines, carry bags, old exercise books, oilcans, etc. This is one form of segregation, which is done as a routine in all households in India. Separating our waste is essential as the amount of waste being generated today causes immense problem. Segregation of municipal solid waste can be clearly understood by schematic representation. Certain items are not biodegradable but can be reused or recycled. In fact, it is believed that a larger portion can be recycled, a part of it can be converted to compost, and only a smaller portion of it is real waste that has no use and has to be discarded.

Household waste should be separated daily into different bags for the different categories of waste such as wet and dry waste, which should be disposed of separately. One should also keep a bin for toxic wastes such as medicines, batteries, dried paint, old bulbs, and dried shoe polish. Wet waste, which consists of leftover foodstuff, vegetable peels, etc., should be put in a compost pit and the compost could be used as manure in the garden. Dry waste consisting of cans, aluminium foils, plastics, metal, glass, and paper could be recycled. If we do not dispose of the waste in a more systematic manner, more than 1400 sq. km of land, which is the size of the city of Delhi, would be required in the country by the year 2047 to dispose of it.


Segregation of waste

Waste can be segregated as
1. Biodegradable and
2. Nonbiodegradable.

Biodegradable waste include organic waste, e.g. kitchen waste, vegetables, fruits, flowers, leaves from the garden, and paper.

Nonbiodegradable waste can be further segregated into:
a) Recyclable waste – plastics, paper, glass, metal, etc.
b) Toxic waste – old medicines, paints, chemicals, bulbs, spray cans, fertilizer and pesticide containers, batteries, shoe polish.
c) Soiled – hospital waste such as cloth soiled with blood and other body fluids.
Toxic and soiled waste must be disposed of with utmost care.

Door-to-door collection of waste is another method of segregation, but it is not a common practice as yet in India except in the metros where some private organizations are doing such work. The rag picker plays a very important part in the segregation of waste.

It is now becoming more and more essential to look for methods by which the garbage load on the land can be reduced. It has been seen that at present segregation of waste at source level seems to be the best.

A large number of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are working in the field of solid waste management such as Clean Ahmedabad Abhiyan in Ahmedabad, Waste-Wise in Bangalore, Mumbai Environmental Action Group in Mumbai, and Vatavaran and Srishti in Delhi. They are all successfully creating awareness among the citizens about their rights and responsibilities towards solid waste and the cleanliness of their city. These organizations promote environmental education and awareness in schools and involve communities in the management of solid waste.

The role of the rag picker

Rag pickers are the people who are actually going through the garbage bins to pick out the ‘rags’. These rag pickers, women, children, and men from the lowest rung in the society, are a common sight in most cities and towns around the country. Rag picking is considered the most menial of all activities and it is people who have no other alternative that are generally driven to it. Rag pickers contribute a great deal to waste management as they scavenge the recyclable matter thereby saving the municipality of the cost and time of collecting and transporting this to the dumps.

The rag picker has a special role to play in the segregation of waste in India. He is one of the focal points for the recycling of waste. He is the person who, in spite of all the dangers that he faces, goes on relentlessly picking through the garbage bin, looking for waste that could be useful to him. He sells all the material he picks to the whole sellers and retailers who in turn sell it to the industry that uses this waste matter as raw material. The main items of collection are plastics, paper, bottles, and cans.

Certain NGOs like Vatavaran in Delhi, CEE (Centre for Environmental Education) in Bangalore and SNDT (Srimati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey) Women’s University in Pune have highlighted the cause of the rag pickers and have taken initiatives to improve their lot. Although these efforts are at a local level, they are invaluable. In Bangalore, the Waste Wise project was initiated in 1990 with the aim of improving the conditions of the rag pickers and at the same time benefiting the society and the local authorities.

SEWA, Self Employed Women’s Association in Ahmedabad has formed a rag pickers’ cooperative and, over the years, has helped the women to organize themselves better and collect waste that is recyclable

Rag pickers are well coordinated in their method of working. Among themselves, they have a good understanding for operating by area. Each group takes specific items from the bins. It has been observed that more and more women and children are getting involved in the business of rag picking. This is a matter of concern as these children who should be spending their time in schools either studying or playing are instead putting themselves at risk by handling waste. While picking through waste, the rag picker puts himself at a great risk and is always prone to disease as the waste that he rummages through can be infected.

We can indirectly help the rag picker by carefully segregating the waste that is generated at our homes, thereby facilitating his search for materials that are useful to him. He will not have to scavenge in the bins for long hours.