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Decoding India’s ‘Not In My Backyard’ Syndrome

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Swacch Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission has been the talk of the nation ever since it was launched in October 2014 in India. It was India’s largest cleanliness drive with everyone from school children to government authorities participating actively in the campaign.

 

The primary objective of the campaign is to reduce open defecation through construction of toilets in homes or clusters and communities. Open defecation is a deeply ingrained problem that arises either due to lack of access to a toilet or ignorance about benefits of using one. The reluctance of building a toilet or allowing authorities to build one in the backyard of homes has been a major issue in India. In some cases the reason is superstition while in others it is plain ignorance towards hygiene. This opposition of any positive development in the immediate vicinity of our homes is called the ‘Not In My Backyard’ of NIMBY syndrome.

 

The NIMBY syndrome smacks of opposition to any constructive development and extends to other social issues like waste management too. What is it about managing our own waste that people find offensive? Why is recycling waste seen as a problem instead of an opportunity? Some of the common complaints observed are:

 

  • ·        It is not my responsibility- When people expect the administration to take care of the issue without any contribution from self
  • ·        I am willing to pay for it – When throwing money at the problem seems like a good solution whereas the actual need is to contribute in kind
  • ·        I don’t like it – When some preconceived notion or unyielding attitude that stops people from understanding core issues


So what is it about waste management that upsets us so much that we let our garbage rot in a landfill pile? India produces more than 60 million tons of waste per year. With the cities exploding in population density, the landfills are bound to overflow beyond their capacity and create no less than an environmental crisis. Even though dumping grounds and landfills are located slightly away from the cities, environmentalists predict that in twenty years we will essentially be living right next to one. And when that happens, we can finally stop running away from the NIMBY syndrome because there won’t be another option.

Waste management has not been an easy task and does have its share of challenges:

  • ·        Infrastructure: Even the well-informed citizen does not know where to start with waste management practices
  • ·        Accessibility: There aren’t enough options available to practice waste management apart from the most convenient method of handing trash to the garbage collector
  • ·        Side effects: Stench, pollution, toxic gases, threat of fire are some of the common side effects

The only viable solution to this problem is to practice decentralized waste management. Decentralized waste management is the exact opposite of piling garbage at a central common location like a landfill. It means having to decompose waste near the source. For households and residential societies, it means decomposing it within the society walls. For schools, colleges, offices and industries it means having to decompose it within their premises. Any establishment in which humans consume or cook food and generate organic waste as a result should responsibly manage their waste themselves.

In principal, irrespective of the type of organization, the organic waste it generates cannot leave the property to be dumped into a landfill.  There are multiple ways in which this can be done. Each method is easy to set up and has its own advantages and outputs.

Composting is the process of letting waste decompose naturally. Vermicomposting, on the other hand uses worms to aid the process. Both the methods produce manure as an output. This can be used for in-house gardening or can be sold to third party vendors such as farm or plant nursery owners. Monetizing the output produced helps reduce costs by a good margin.

Biogas power plant is the method of converting organic waste into renewable energy such as cooking fuel or electricity. This is the only method that gives considerable return on investment because it saves significant costs. An in-situ waste management set up also largely benefits the community and the environment. It decreases the transport cost of ferrying the garbage to a landfill.

There are many consulting agencies that help organizations figure out what is the best method depending upon their waste generation capacity. Some even extend their services to managing and supervising your organic waste management process.

Apart from making financial sense, decentralized waste management has greater ecological benefits such as:

  • ·        Breathing better quality air by avoiding releasing toxic greenhouse gases like methane at landfills
  • ·        Not polluting the soil and groundwater with leachate, thus eating less toxic local food
  • ·        Manure produced goes back to the soil and biogas is used as energy thereby completing the circle of nature
  • ·        Making the Earth a better place to live in for the generations to come

The overall awareness in India related to recycling and reusing has increased over the last few decades. People are consciously seen recycling bags, bottles, paper, tetra-packs etc. But there is still some amount of reluctance in practising waste management on their own. More awareness on the topic and stringent rules laid down by authorities can change the scenario.

 

We still have a long way to go to become a clean and green nation with minimal carbon footprint. But with Clean India Mission, at least the seeds have been sown. The common man feels more responsible towards his duty. One can confidently say urban India is slowly trudging towards a zero garbage, zero waste society.