Currently, India is on the road to understanding how waste disposal systems could be developed and perfected especially in rural areas. There is an urgency in people to live a better life in a cleaner environment and thus a willingness to achieve this goal. However, not everyone knows how we can proceed in the right direction- how to implement various solutions in a rural surrounding with little or no external funding and especially how these waste management systems can be made independent and self-sufficient. While this is the question on everyone’s mind, people lack a visual map on how this could be done. Therefore, I decided to draw a road-map of how Indian rural areas could achieve waste disposal efficiently including plastic as well as bio-waste. I will try to break down the current ideas to the most feasible rapid methods. Another blog with the long-term projects and the future steps that a village (a whole community per se) can adapt to have a cleaner surrounding will follow soon.
The above image shows a grim reality often missed by us. The world oceans are already loaded by an enormous 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic which in terms of numbers equals 55 million jumbo-jets, 822,000 Eiffel towers and 18400 Burj Khalifas. If you have visited Eiffel tower or Burj Khalifa, you can imagine the enormity and gravity of the situation. The image was taken from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/indl-goods/svs/paper-/-wood-/-glass/-plastic/-marbles/our-plastic-pollution-problem/articleshow/64420276.cms5
What are we dealing with?
First of all, we must understand how to segregate our wastes properly. and for that, we need to understand which types of wastes does a village usually encounters and is it possible to separate them at the ground level. If we are able to distinguish which wastes go together and what should not be discarded together, we are able to generate an efficient waste disposal system rapidly.
Types of wastes
Normally, the waste can be divided into 4 main types:
- The bio-waste
- Plastic waste
- Chemical waste including agricultural and household chemicals
Due to prevalent farming practices and animal husbandry, a major part of rural waste consists of bio or organic waste. This is, in part, advantageous, as bio-waste is bio-degradable and age-old farming practices already exist (in addition to modern waste disposal system) to remove or recycle bio-waste. Bio or organic waste include kitchen waste, gardening waste, animal waste (cow dung) and more. During the road-map, we will discuss the feasibility of a bio-waste recycling and advantages for the rural area.
Image of common organic/ bio-waste in a rural area in northern India. Image provided by Surjit Singh Bains, Village Bains, Punjab.
Another common type of waste nowadays is the plastic waste. Use of plastic is now becoming a big problem all around the world especially because an efficient system to completely remove the plastic waste after use does not exist. Only about 20% of the whole world plastic waste is being recycled and, unfortunately, this recycling is almost non-existent in India even if India’s per capita plastic use is among the lowest in the world. Even more so in a rural setting. This means that any plastic that makes it to a small village, may not leave that village in the next decades. This has its own implications both from cleanliness as well as environment perspective. Out of ignorance, people burn the plastic waste to get rid of it, which should be avoided at any cost. This can pollute the immediate environment with harmful gases and cause health-related issues. Also, a plastic bottle degrades in over 400 years, long after the person using it gone. Therefore, recycling plastic becomes the only possible solution. We will discuss this type of waste also in more detail in the road-map.
The most common form of plastic waste in the rural area is plastic bags and not pet bottles (common to tourist areas and even in metropolitan areas). This is an emerging type of waste with no proper handling at the end. The most common method employed by villagers is to burn the plastic in a heap which is extremely harmful to human health and environment. Image of common plastic waste in a rural area in northern India. Image provided by Surjit Singh Bains, Village Bains, Punjab.
Another emerging waste in rural (and metropolitan) areas is electronic waste or e-waste. The term e-waste describes discarded electrical or electronic devices. As the electronic components (e.g. CPUs) contain potentially harmful contents such as lead, cadmium, beryllium and brominated flame retardants, they can lead to adverse human health effects and also cause environmental pollution. Therefore, they should be properly discarded as well as recycled. Leaky units should be properly segregated. If these components are discarded into normal waste and land into a landfill or even incinerators, the heavy metals can be released in gases and therefore are a potential health hazard. However, the major e-waste in rural setting is mobile phones and batteries and this could be easily controlled when started early enough in today’s time.
The proper segregation of e-waste is a must and while we do not have much of this waste currently in villages, this would be a good time to develop a system that will efficiently deal with it. Most of our fresh food comes from this setting and thus avoidance of this waste could be the best possibility.
A bigger and more challenging problem is the chemical pollution in rural areas. It comprises of not just pesticides and herbicides that are currently used for agricultural purposes but also household cleaning items or harsh chemicals for house painting. As a rural setting usually consists of water and soil resources used for farming and husbandry, use of these chemicals pollutes the area and with time, accumulation of these chemicals may occur! such a contamination can easily be transferred from the crop to humans and thus cause what is now known as endocrine disruption i.e. hormone regulation of the body can be affected. This chemical contamination has been going on for many years for some very common chemicals and thus an efficient way of usage, as well as discarding, has to be implemented. We will look at some new ways of dealing with these chemicals.
The most common household chemicals are shown. Pesticides, household cleaners, antibiotic medicines used for animals all constitute a risk and must be controlled. Contamination of soil and water must be curbed. Image of common chemical waste in a rural area in northern India. Image provided by Surjit Singh Bains, Village Bains, Punjab, India.
Usually, waste sites are a mixture of all the wastes listed above and a long term dumping (akin to landfill) may result in damage to the local soil and water resources.
Image of a recent clean-up drive in Shimla by Healing Himalayas Foundation.
What can we do?
Now that we have segregated the various wastes into 4 categories, let us try to build a general map of how a village in India could possibly develop ways of disposal with minimum supervision and maximum efficiency. Somethings can always vary between different villages but the main culprits will be covered and disposed off as discussed in the previous section.
- WASTE SEGREGATION AT HOME
Instead of putting up dustbins ask everyone to collect and segregate the waste at home. The best part of this approach is slowly people become aware of what kind of waste is entering the house, which one is easy to deal with and for families that were not using traditional composting methods and do not know the advantage of composting methods, method generation takes place. This might take some effort on the part of local Panchayat or volunteers as people would need teaching. Having printed posters showing how to differentiate between dry waste and wet waste or plastic waste and bio-waste may help.
At the same time, collect a certain amount of money from every participating house. This collection should be done before the waste disposal to provide for the van/truck. When a whole community will be involved, this would be a small amount of money/household.
2. PERIODIC WASTE COLLECTION
Once in a fortnight or month, depending on amount of garbage, collect it from each household and send it to nearest waste disposal plant. This would require a pick-up truck/van, one or two helping hands- Volunteers or paid workers depending on the money collection. While the plastic waste/dry waste are transported to waste disposal units (these units/facilities are in use and under government control; unfortunately people are unaware of how to get to these units or even the fact that these units exist in a rural setting. Sending waste to disposal units will also help people realize that a way to get rid of accumulated waste exist), bio-waste can be composted locally, even at home. Village homes usually have a garden or even fields that are being used for farming. Composting will provide a very natural healthy way of replenishing the soil. Many homes are already using this method to use up bio-waste in a rural setting.
3. WASTE DELIVERY TO WASTE DISPOSAL PLANT
The last step in this round consists of delivery of waste to the waste disposal plants. For this to work, a prior identification to such a plant near to the village is required. Money collected before will be used for this step. It is possible that the disposal plant also pays money back for every kg of the waste as these plants usually use the plastic waste to produce energy.
Once the method is generated, a periodic cycle can be produced where the three main steps are repeated every few months.
4. For the e-waste, a local vendor can be identified. As a mobile selling shop usually recycle mobiles or have contact with companies, they may be the best point of contact for generating a pathway for the disposal of these wastes. For chemical waste, decreasing usage is the best policy. Once in the local environment, it will be difficult to separate and segregate them.
Some other concurrent steps have to be taken. Awareness must be raised about general cleanliness in the village or rural setting. This awareness can be raised in the villagers by talking about the waste disposal during local meetings/ Panchayat meetings/ Temple or Gurudwara meetings. The local community should be informed about the importance of
-> Regular cleaning drives in the village involving all the local communities
-> Putting a stop to open air burning
-> Wall paintings in the village sharing message of cleanliness are also important and have a major impact on the collective thinking of the people.
For a more progressive future, regular discussion with villagers over solid waste management are required. Finally, it is crucial that the system for waste disposal is developed for Indian villages at the earliest both for its socio-economic value as well as a measure to curb health issues due to improper disposal.
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