Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care." – World Environment Day 2015

"Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care."
World Environment Day 2015

‘The World Environment Day 5 June 2015 theme is "Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care." The well-being of humanity, the environment, and the functioning of the economy, ultimately depend upon the responsible management of the planet’s natural resources. And yet, evidence is building that people are consuming far more natural resources than what the planet can sustainably provide. By 2050, if current consumption and production patterns remain the same and with a rising population expected to reach 9.6 billion, we will need three planets to sustain our ways of living and consumption.’ (www.unep.org/wed)
Typical Rural Shop and the diversity of products and packaging

Increasing waste an outcome of our consumption

A direct outcome of our consumption patterns is the ever increasing waste. With the rapid change in the production and consumption patterns that we are experiencing today the quantity of waste has gone up dramatically.  Along with this quantity of waste the type of waste has also changed tremendously. Packaging is no longer a brown paper bag which used to be filled up from a jute sack but a riot of colours in multi-layered packaging material of plastic, paper and metal. The packets are also getting smaller and smaller with miniscule amounts of product inside the packet. Many-a-times these packets are put into further packets and then poly-bags before it is handed out to the consumer. At this juncture, we would like to point to our 3rd July 2014 article on plastic bag free day where we have presented the scenario of non-woven PP(polypropelene) bag that is being used in the Darjeeling and Sikkim hills are plastic and have the same if not more harm to our environmental health.

Complex packaging materials with no treatment solutions

Materials like metalised plastic, tetra-packs, plastic and batteries cannot be managed with existing practices of burying, rolling downhill and burning as they contaminate the environment and have serious health implications with carcinogens(cancer causing), endocrine disruptors, allergens and other toxic chemicals being released and eventually entering our food chain, the air we breathe and the water we drink. For many materials we use today, there are no sustainable solutions of waste management except for reduction of its use.
The Dumping Chute where we officially dump our waste
in Darjeeling Town

What do we do with our waste?

For us living on the top of a hill, it is easy not to think about our waste as we just roll it down the hill. That is what we have been doing since our towns got established. The practice was acceptable to a certain extent since most of the waste was bio—degradable, but not anymore, as only 70% of our waste is bio-degradable. To make matter worse, our waste is not segregated before rolling down the hill making our water ways and hill-sides slopes of waste. Not only do they have environmental health implications of also possible causes of landslides and degradation of prime agricultural land. The pile up of unsegregated waste burns regularly contaminating the air we breathe as well as contributing to climate change.
‘Consuming with care means living within planetary boundaries to ensure a healthy future where our dreams can be realized.’ (www.unep.org/wed). Consuming with care means recognizing the waste we produce and taking responsibility of it.

The time is now that we bring about a change in our society, ourselves, our families, our attitudes and behavior. Bring about a change in the way we manage our waste. Why? Because the quantity and type of waste has gone through a dramatic change in the past few years of our existence. ‘Darjeeling Municipality today produces between 30 to 45 metric tonnes of waste daily’.  Yet, our attitude and behavior is still: sweep it away; roll it downhill, bury it or burn it and blame others. The time is now to take responsibility of our waste because if we do not we might not have a tomorrow.  
Dumping Chute Burns 
“Contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste”. Chief Seattle 1854

We need to be responsible of our waste

No longer can we take pride in our queen of the hills being clean and green – a health sanatorium. Our city street corners and jhoras are clogged with piles of waste with serious environmental health implications. This serious issue of solid waste has spread to smaller towns and rural communities too.

Writing on the Wall says it all (site no longer exists in this fashion) 
Solid waste management solutions are a combination of actions which are based on attitudinal and behavioural change of responsibility, reduction of waste and sound technological solutions based on the micro situation and community participation. It starts from the all important ‘I choose to be responsible’.

Bio-degradable waste

Bio-degradable waste or the waste that naturally degrades like vegetable wastes can be composted at a family level or at a community level. Composting is a natural process of converting bio-degradable material into rich manure. (There are many organizations with skills promoting composting and in our future articles we will focus on composting techniques as well as urban gardening) At a community level one can use biodegradable waste to generate bio-gas for heat or electricity. The sludge from the bio-gas can be further composted. Composting is one of the best ways to manage our wastes and convert into rich manure for our gardening needs. Adoption of composting means that 70% of our waste issues are addressed.

Vermicomposting of biodegradable waste

Composting Units - www.dailydump.org
Where possible, biodegradable waste can be linked with farmers who will use it for livestock food. This linkage is key to ensure the large amount of food waste that is generated by the hospitality industry. Food waste from the hospitality industry is prime food for piggery.

Non Bio-degradable waste

Once we have dealt with bio-degradable, non-biodegradable waste becomes a bit complex to handle with no perfect and ready-made solutions. This is where the reduction in waste production is so important. Reducing waste means less waste to start with so less to deal with as an end product of our consumption process. This means the analysis of our consumption patterns and making conscious choices of reduction. Example not having gutka and having paan means that we do not add metalized plastic(gutka packaging) into the waste stream. Carrying a milk can and buying milk in it would mean atleast one plastic pouch less a day. Eating aloo dum without any other packaged food means less metalized plastic in the waste stream. Having fresh juice or milk means that much less tetrapacks. Buying shampoos, oil, paste in the largest container not only makes economic sense but reduced packaging material. Reduce comes attached to refuse. Carrying your own water-bottle, mug and plate means never having to use throw-away cutlery many of which are plastic and some not even food grade. Deciding to eat as much as possible non-packaged food reduces waste as well as supports the much needed local economy. This also impacts in reducing carbon footprint as local food travels shorter distances thus consumes less oil to travel from production point to consumption. The list is limited by our own creativity.

Reusing a product is part of our culture which we need to continue practicing especially in the onslaught of consumerism where we are encouraged to buy and buy. Buying a product for its durability is a value that is more than common sense from the waste perspective. Repairing and reusing is also an important part of our culture to resist the throw-away society we are progressing towards.

Recycling is the last option in waste management with the recognition that recycling has a cost. The product needs to be collected, transported and recycled, all of which requires energy which comes from the precious non-renewable oil. It also must be noted that there are limits to recycling too, plastics degrades in quality at each recycling cycle reducing is utility possibilities. There is more and more acceptance of the fact that there is actually no recycling as you usually do not get the same product post recycling and the more appropriate term would be downcyling or going down in quality and utility.

Yet the potential of recycling is yet to be realized in the Darjeeling Hills. All recycling happens through the informal chain and collected by the kabadiwallas and ragpickers. Most extraction for recycling happens after we thrash our waste. How good it would be if all of us segregate our waste at our homes and hand over our recyclables directly to the kabadiwalla who provide us such good environmental service. Segregation at source is the first step towards being a responsible person and storage at source is a matter of mental space rather than a physical space. The attitudinal change needs to come in the way we view the kabadiwallas, rag pickers and other waste managers. At an administrative level organized linkage to recycling would not only bring about a cleaner Darjeeling Hills but become an income source.

Within the discussion of waste management emerging challenges are bio-medical waste and electronic waste. Some of these wastes just have to be stored with a hope that one day solutions will emerge.

People's Participation

Enhancing people’s participation is critical to having a good waste management system. Community participation in awareness, segregation at source, collection, treatment and linkage to recycling makes the process efficient, accountable and a source of livelihood. Samaj play an important to evolve social rules on littering and improved waste management. There are a number of examples of samaj in Darjeeling who have decided not to use throw away plates and cups at their gatherings. Like-wise there are countless examples from Sikkim where communities have decided not to use bottled water; throw away utensils and packaged noodles. A number of samaj in Darjeeling have organized themselves to collect waste from door to door on a miniscule fee. These initiatives demonstrate the ample potential to enhance community participation in waste management. Navin Sewa Samity from Harsing and Gram Mitra Sangh from Yangkhoo Busties has decided not to use any use and throw plastic and paper utensils in any of their activities and decisions like these need to be emulated.  

PET Bottles - the pile-up and also link to unorganised recycling  
Waste and tourism

Darjeeling is a very popular tourist destination and along with tourists comes resource pressures including waste. As mentioned earlier Darjeeling town produces 15 metric tonnes more waste in the peak tourist season. Disaggregating this data further, our organizational study in 2012 showed that from 7 major suppliers of Darjeeling Town, in the tourist season 32520 bottles and during the off season 15000 bottles of packaged water per month is sold. What happens to these bottles after use is anyone’s guess: most are just thrashed and some are recovered by kabadiwallas and ragpickers. One must also note that the data does not include other fizzy drinks and also how the water bottles have changed dimensions to smaller versions in the recent times. Tourist spots in mountainous regions are in sacred and biodiversity rich areas; with the lack of waste management, these tourist spots are also becoming centres of non-biodegradable waste. A point to stress the case is that one views the sunrise in Tiger Hill and then views the waste after it. Touristic destination like Darjeeling have to factor waste into the tourism industry and address the issue of waste to continue the industry as well as for environmental health. Tourist destinations in Sikkim like Tsongmo has banned the use of packaged noodles and Lachen has banned bottled water and these are lessons we need to work towards. Alternatives are also being promoted with safe water points in Lachen, Ladakh and Goa, why can we not do it in Darjeeling. Infrastructure for waste catering to tourists must be integrated in an improved system in the Darjeeling Hills.

Mainstreaming waste in our everyday lives

Ultimately there is need for mainstreaming of waste into our everyday lives. There is a need for existing information on waste to converted to action and education institutions, religious organizations needs to play key roles as change makers. A Rimpoche in Bhutan has taken upon himself to promote reduction of waste and all his followers have been instructed not to bring packaged food when seeking his blessings. Likewise they have been instructed to bring their own plate and mugs for food which is all non-packaged food. A number of schools in Darjeeling do not allow packaged food in the school premises. Such exemplary actions need to become everyday life.

Mainstreaming also means converging different walks of life to incorporate proper waste management in our lives. This includes events in our lives. If all our events do not use flex, bottled water, packaged food and juices and throw-away utensils there would be that much less waste in our beloved hills. Our events would continue to be fruitful but would generate less waste, waste that we do not need and can reduce. Its indirect benefits would be expanded local livelihood options.

So the time is now where we make these attitude and behavioural changes that will make Darjeeling truly cleaner and we truly become global citizens where our actions do not harm others and it starts with ‘I choose to be responsible’. Where we ensure the "Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

very helpful and very informative!!!