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049: Where does our food waste go with Saritha Sudhakaran (Day 4 SFW2)

How can we ease the job of underpaid, often humiliated garbage collectors? How can we earn money through recycling? How can we reduce the load of women sorters who stand for 8-10 hours at a stretch, manually segregating our “mixed” plastic garbage bags? How does waste intersect with economics, gender, religion, caste, culture, public policy, urban planning, humiliation and dignity?

How can we ensure that the 18 storey high Deonar garbage mountain in Mumbai, and the Ghazipur landfill in Delhi (which takes 2 months to circumvent on foot) doesn’t become taller than the Taj Mahal? How can we stop cows from eating out of plastic laden garbage dumps, and turtles from being suffocated with straws? How can we help waste pickers earn money on the “garbage stock market” where the price of more than 50+ types of plastic, glass, and metal fluctuate daily?

According to Saritha Sudhakaran, a post-consumer waste expert, the answers to these questions become clear when we begin to look at “garbage” as a “resource”. Through her 12 week “waste less” project Saritha guides household members across the country on how to drastically reduce their waste output and encourage others to share knowledge. She has laid out realistic and achievable steps sans sprinklings of judgement or inexperienced idealism.

Organic waste comprises 60% of most Indian households’ garbage output. Through meal planning, buying smaller quantities, purchasing seasonal and local produce, cooking root to shoot, kitchen gardens and composting (including cat poop!), we can drastically cut our wet waste output.

Currently on an average Indian homes in major metros produce 0.5 kgs of wet waste per person per day. Imagine the surprise on the BBMP workers face (who passes daily with his blaring “Madam hassi kassa” call), when you don’t hand over any wet waste? Envisage the beautiful “first rain” smell of compost as your orange peels convert to happy, healthy plant food with the guidance of daily dump and worm rani? Saritha wants us to envision a future where we can retire waste management as a profession.

Continued from above…..In addition to organic waste, the balance 40% of Indian household waste comprises recyclable material (20%), toxic waste (10%) and rejects (10%).

Used milk and curd packets, beer bottles, soiled diapers, a plethora of Amazon packing materials, greasy pizza boxes, egg cartons, old shoes, worn out underwear, and all the empty plastic bags that once transported dal, rice, salt, sugar and oil from the local kirana store to our home end up in a mixed pile in the Tata ACE dry waste BBMP tipper.

All these materials are useless - i.e. cannot be sold to earn workers money, and cumbersome to sort if they are soiled or mixed. Saritha drew a parallel of trying to pick out all the cardamom and clove pieces from thousands of giant plates of biryani with the tedious workload put on garbage segregators.

We can begin by washing out and separating all our plastics including milk packets. We can cut a line in place of snipping off corners of plastic packets, since the tiny triangles are impossible to find and easily end up in the rivers and oceans. We can identify better packaging - for instance buy oil in a can (higher retail value as waste) in place of plastic pouches, or jam in glass bottles in place of plastic cups. We can wash and segregate all the beer and liquor bottles and hand them over directly to the local raddiwala (waste sorter). Saritha’s page has many such practical suggestions.

Thank you Saritha for making transparent what happens to the garbage bag and it's contents once it leaves the confines of our home, and for opening up our eyes to the vast consumer waste management ecosystem.

Online Lecture as part of "Studying Foods Workshop" conducted on March 10, 2022 by Saritha Sudhakaran

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