Sunday, August 20, 2006

Trimming the Waste

There was a certain class in middle-school that stuck in my memory. It was a social studies class and my teacher, who had tasted life in the foreign (read first world) lands, remarked about a particular study undertaken by a dutch energy company. This energy company had apparently produced energy from garbage in Europe and the Indian government had asked them to research if they could replicate their success in India as well. After a few months of research, the company ruled that energy couldnt be produced from Indian wastes just because of the type of trash. I remember the smirk on my teachers face when she said "...even India's wastes arent good enough".

Almost two decades have passed since I heard her say that, now I am ready to prove her wrong...Indian wastes are indeed top notch :)

Exhibit A: A sell-out crowd watching a cricket test match in England is expected to generate 50 tonnes of waste over five days of sporting action!!! A majority of the waste includes drink containers, paper, cardboard...very combustible and useful resources for a energy generation plant. It required a former test cricketer, Alec Stewart, to go on air to exhort the public to recycle rather than waste.

In India, no former captains need to use up air time to urge the public to recycle. Its part of the system already. The incentive is money paid by recyclers (kabadiwallahs) for the plastics, milk containers, newspapers, etc. The public would rather take that money than put the items in the trash bin. Indian trash therefore mostly comprises food-based wastes, some of which is recycled in the kitchen garden itself.

Exhibit B: "Paper or plastic" is the commonly heard phrase at the checkout counter of a grocery store, supermarket. Only recently have groceries like Whole Foods and Trader Joes started asking shoppers if they want to carry back the purchases in their own tote. I havent seen *anyone* bring their own totes in. The city of San Franciscos efforts to charge for bags so shoppers brought their own bags also met with strong resistance.

Thinking about shopping back in India, if you didnt have your own tote to carry the stuff back in, you would just have to hold them in your hands, with absolutely no sympathy from the seller.

Exhibit C: A scene from a forgetful movie starring Brittany Murphy where shes playing a nanny and in the scene chastised by the rich brat shes looking after for drying the dishes with a cloth instead of a paper towel. I couldnt bring myself to watch any more of the movie...mostly because it was such a cheesy movie and not just for environmental reasons. To put things back in perspective...In India, a kitchen towel wouldnt have had anyone complaining unless they werent washed of course.

The net result, the amount of garbage produced, the type of garbage produced is more conducive for landfills in India. Recently, several cities have introduced schemes for door-to-door waste collection where each homeowner is charged for the type and amount of waste generated therefore providing the necessary stick to lower waste generation. Energy can certainly be produced from first world wastes, but the costs of such energy is prohibitive if you take into account the energy used to produce the containers, paper and cardboards in the first place.

Postscript: I now carry a green Whole Foods Tote (cost $3) when I go grocery shopping...mostly at Safeway because I cant afford Whole Foods.
I use neither cloth nor paper towels to dry my dishes...I just let the water drain.

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