Swachch Bharat Mission: We still have a lot of mess to clean up

Garbage is seen on the polluted banks of the river Yamuna near the historic Taj Mahal in Agra, India, May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018. REUTERS/Saumya Khandelwal

Having built 90 million toilets in a span of five years to drastically reduce open defecation under the Swachch Bharat mission, our Prime Minister has bagged the “Global Goalkeeper Award” by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The achievement is great no doubt.

But clean India is still a distant dream for us the common people habituated to sights of rotting garbage by roadsides, potholes filled with filthy rainwater and drains and rivers choked with plastic.

We feel much more needs to be done for India’s garbage problem is massive and complex.

Around 62 million tonnes of garbage is generated annually and 45 million tonnes of it go untreated. To give you an idea how massive it is – the untreated garbage will fill about 3 million trucks, which when laid end to end will cover half the distance between the earth and the moon. At this pace, warn observers, India will someday drown in its own garbage.

To control and eventually reverse it, is no mean feat. Especially, when we are miles away from implementing even the basic steps to manage the surging litter. Unlike in advanced nations, we don’t have dustbins, let alone the recycle bins to collect different types of waste, placed at regular intervals; waste segregation at the household level is hardly practiced by us.

Eventually most of our garbage just rots in landfills growing by the day. The toxic gases emanating from them is damaging our environment and affecting our health.

Take for example, India’s largest dump in Ghazipur, situated on the eastern edge of New Delhi. It’s the size of 40 football fields and is set to grow taller than the Taj Mahal in 2020. Apart from the noxious methane gas emanating from the dump making the surrounding air extremely polluted, the site also catches fire often because of it. The vision is apocalyptic and damage to environment beyond measure.

This, despite plenty of doable solutions.

A small nation Sweden, with an even smaller population, ensures that less than 1 percent of household waste end up in landfills. To do so, it meticulously segregates waste and recycles half of it. It uses the remaining half to generate electricity. Such small, sparsely populated nations aside, even densely populated ones and some large ones are managing to set a precedent in garbage disposal and management.

Japan for instance, will drive you out of your mind with its waste segregation and systematic throwing facilities. The US which has seen its waste increase dramatically, still manages to recycle around 32 percent of it.

And you needn’t feel disheartened thinking India is far, far behind in making such efforts. Our west-central city Indore has achieved the impossible – zero garbage and zero landfill. Households separate wet and dry waste which are regularly collected by the municipal authorities. Parts of the collected waste are recycled and parts of it turned into fuel and manure.

Other cities in India can easily emulate Indore’s efforts. Even if they can halve the trash ending up in landfills, it will be an enormous leap.

Other measures such as charging for garbage disposed by weight or other metrics can be introduced as well. Cities and countries where such a system has been introduced have seen substantial reduction in their household waste and upping of recycling.

Given our population size, ill-planned urbanization and industrialization, cleaning up the mess won’t be easy. But, both authorities and common people like us have to make a beginning at some point and steely resolution on our part to reduce, reuse and recycle can be a good starting point!