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Issue 45
, 2013
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Sorting Gurgaon's garbage problem must start from home

Source: Times Of India, Date: , 2013

In 1994, Surat in Gujarat was struck by the pneumonic plague. The epidemic killed more than 50 people and reportedly led to one of the largest internal migrations. People fled their homes. It is believed that a combination of heavy monsoon rains, choked sewer lines, and rotting garbage and animal carcasses created extremely unhygienic conditions that caused the plague.

Naturally, people blamed the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) that had failed miserably in its basic obligatory duty of maintaining sanitation and cleanliness in the city. An embarrassed SMC, however, soon rose to the occasion, introducing a series of initiatives and innovations in sanitation and health management. Today, Surat is said to be the cleanest city in India.

However, even after 20 years, the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) does not seem to have learned any lessons from Surat, neither from the pneumonic plague nor from post-plague actions. Waste management in Gurgaon is in a pathetic state. Sanitation contractors have been allowed to rule for years in spite of complaints against their performance.

The door-to-door garbage collection currently in practice in Gurgaon is not only crude and elementary but also inefficient and expensive. In a number of ways the process also violates the norms laid down in the Haryana Municipal Corporation Act, 1994, Chapter XV (HMCA) titled "Sanitation and Public Health." The HMCA provides adequate laws on rights and duties of citizens and the MCG in this matter. "The scavenging, removal and disposal of filth, rubbish and other obnoxious or polluted matters" is an obligatory function of the municipal corporation, but citizens must also act.

According to a paper by the environment department of the Government of Haryana, approximately 500-800 grams of solid waste is produced per person per day. So, a family of four would produce about 2-3 kg of waste daily. The composition of waste in an average domestic dustbin is paper/cardboard (30%); vegetable waste (25%); plastics (10%); glass (8%); metals (7%); textiles (5%); miscellaneous (15%). The percentage of paper/cardboard and plastics is increasing as packaged foods replace cooking.

Household solid waste can be divided under three broad categories: bio-degradable waste, which includes vegetable produce such as fruit and vegetable peel and leftover or stale food; partially-biodegradable waste such as paper and textiles; and non-biodegradable waste, which are mostly metals, plastic and glass. The latest kind is electronic-waste (e-waste), which can carry poisonous elements. E-waste is not regular waste, but finds its way into the kitchen dustbins every now and then, such as fused bulbs, CFLs and fluorescent tubes. This mixture of waste eventually lands up in land-fill sites. When sent for recycling, its heterogeneous characteristics makes recycling and utilisation complex, expensive and sometimes dangerous.

The solution to the problem of mixing lies in segregating. Ideally each category of waste should go into a separate dustbin. To begin with, each home must be equipped with a three-bin system, one bin for vegetable matter, the second for semi-biodegradable matter, and the third for non-degradable. All three bins together must be easy to carry, clean and maintain. If this is too difficult to implement, one could at least start with two bins, one for decomposable organic waste and the other for recyclable inorganic waste.

People who have large gardens or those living in group housing societies with land available in the campus - and can prevent access to stray animals such as pigs, dogs and cats - can create composting pits in the gardens for organic waste. The slight drawback of composting at home is that during the composting process, the waste generates fugitive emissions which pollutes the air and can be nauseating.