Everyday morning when we volunteers meet, we all take pledge for “good conduct”. It talks about speaking truth, conserving natural resources, being considerate to others etc. One of the sentence in the pledge was “I will throw the garbage at the right place”. One volunteer pointed out that we should not say “throw garbage” but say “keep garbage at designated place”.

A small change of words but a big change of attitude. How do we accomplish it?

This 2nd October, we have completed six years of the Swachh Bharat. Technically we are in phase-2 of the mission which runs until 2025. One must give full credit to the mission, that it made citizens to become conscious and make efforts. If you go by the statistics, we have made considerable progress. The data is impressive:

  • Over 10 Crore toilets in rural households
  • About 62 Lakhs household and 6 Lakh community toilets in urban areas
  • 100% door to door waste collection in 83,213 wards of 4,372 cities

With passage of time, the initial euphoria has subsided and given way to more concrete efforts. No longer you see pictures of celebrities with a broom, trying to clean a street or a corner. Despite progress made, if you see around, we still have a long way to go.

The challenge of waste management in urban areas especially in metro cities is still a big task. In the current pandemic situation, some of the initiatives may have taken a back seat and need to revive them.  The Covid situation has thrown its own challenges, just to list a few:

1) Segregation of Waste: During the lockdown there was skeletal staff or no staff for housekeeping in buildings. The residents were doing all the cleaning themselves in the house. While in some cases resident volunteers took upon themselves to pursue waste separation and composting, in many cases the separation was forgotten. It is time to get back to waste segregation and composting for wet garbage.

2) Plastic Usage: Until we went into lockdown, there were conscious efforts to cut-down usage of plastic. However, after lockdown due to pressures of “contactless delivery”, there is an exponential increase in usage of plastic. Number of items that you would have picked and kept in your cloth bag are now packed in plastic. This means we have gone back in time and need to work again.

3) Packaging Materials:  The absence of printed newspapers was a blessing in disguise as it created much lesser “raddi”.  In the process many people have adapted to e-editions as preference. While this was a positive, increased dependence on online retailers (or e-tailers) for grocery, toiletries and even vegetables resulted in huge amounts of paper waste. The quantum of packing material used by the online retailers is a cause of concern. Can we launch a movement to stop them from such gross misuse?

4) Medical Waste: Until recently Hazardous Waste was a problem limited to only industries and hospitals. However, the Covid pandemic has brought it to our doorsteps. Disposal of used masks and PPEs has become household responsibility. Awareness and mechanism for disposal of such waste is needed, else we run a risk of spreading infection.

5) Toilets for all: Where there were no toilets, provision of public toilet was a boon.  However, in the initial days of pandemic the usage of community toilets in slums and chawls was indicated as a cause for rapid spread. This points out the need for long term planning, we cannot take solace that everyone has access to public toilets. Eventually, we must move to a situation, where each household has a toilet.           

Food Packaging for Take Away

5) Restaurants v/s Take Away:  The restaurants were closed, even after opening there is/ would be hesitation. Most of the restaurants were surviving on Take Away. This again meant usage of much more packing material. Further, when people eat outside on streets, pavements, and gardens, it is sad to see that some of them just throw away the trash without looking for a garbage bin.

The behavioral changes that we need, are still elusive.

  1. Do not generate extra garbage, act at the root. This is where we must keep away from western practice of excessive packaging.
  2. We must move from “throw garbage” to “keep the garbage at designated places”.

Continuing the momentum of progress, why can’t we rededicate ourselves to the cause of Swachh Bharat this 2nd October?

Rishikesh     Joshi

DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.