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Tackling India’s Waste At An Individual Level

Let’s look at how we can make a significant impact on India's waste challenge by adopting responsible practises

20 Oct '23
6 min read


India generates an estimated 60 million tonnes of garbage every day, of which 45 million tonnes, or 75%, are dumped untreated in landfills. Delhi and Mumbai together generate about 10 million tonnes of garbage. If this trend continues, India will need 1,240 hectares of land, the size of a metropolitan city like Bengaluru, to dump its waste every year by 2031.

Though steps have been implemented through Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and other government initiatives, challenges still exist. Individuals must play an equally important role in mitigating this crisis by adopting responsible waste management practices such as segregating waste, composting, recycling and thrifting, among others. 

Let’s explore these steps in detail and understand how we, as an individual, can contribute to reducing waste and building a more sustainable future.

Segregate Your Waste: The First Step

Why does it matter?

Mixed waste is challenging to separate and releases toxins into the air. Now, when organic materials in landfills decompose without oxygen, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas 25-30 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. To make this worse, methane also contributes to smog and air pollution. In addition, the leachate from landfills can contaminate groundwater with harmful chemicals. It's crucial to segregate waste into wet and dry waste and dispose of them separately, to minimise the impact of landfills on the environment.

Let’s start at home

  • To segregate waste at home, use two separate containers, one for wet waste and the other for dry waste. 
  • For dry waste, keep two bags, one for plastics and paper and the other for the rest of the household waste. Sanitary waste, such as diapers, sanitary napkins, and other hygiene products, should be disposed of in red plastic for the safety of garbage collectors and the sanitary workers. 
  • Plastic waste from the kitchen should be kept clean and dry before you put it in the dry waste bin. Glass and plastic containers should be rinsed of food matter.
  • Wet waste should be sent out for composting daily. Dry waste can be sent for recycling once every week.

Composting Organic Waste

In cities like Bangalore and Mumbai, around 60% to 70% of the daily waste produced is wet waste or organic, biodegradable waste. To set the context, organic waste includes kitchen scraps, garden waste, and food leftovers and it constitutes more than half of the daily waste generated by a household. Composting can make a huge difference as it can prevent compostable waste from ending up in landfills and reduce methane emissions. It transforms organic waste into nutrient-rich compost, which can be used to fertilize gardens and plants, the reason home composting is turning out to be a popular practice. 

Here’s a five-step process 

  1. Collect kitchen waste in a container.
  2. Mix with dry materials like dry shredded leaves, sawdust or cocopeat
  3. Introduce microbes (from compost or cow dung) to break down wet waste. 
  4. Provide oxygen by making perforated holes or turning for a smell-free composting cycle. 
  5. Maintain balance and ensure oxygen flow with daily additions of kitchen waste and dry materials.

Embrace recycling, reduce and reuse 

As per research conducted by the Un-Plastic Collective (UPC), India generates an annual plastic waste of 9.46 million tonnes, with a significant 40% of this waste left uncollected. Similarly, in 2020, India imported paper waste and paper pulp valued at 81 billion. Conversely, only 20% of paper waste undergoes collection, segregation, and recycling, while the remainder ends up in landfills. 

As we mentioned above, waste segregation plays an important role in recycling. Proper education on recyclable materials is needed at an individual level.

We bring you a few easy zero-waste tips to reduce your carbon footprint:

  1. Purchase staples in bulk and store them in reusable containers like mason jars to control the quantity you need. It also helps you save money compared to pre-packaged goods.
  2. Replace single-use plastic disposables with steel or bamboo ones (for example, straws, toothbrushes, and cutlery)
  3. Buy groceries in unbleached cotton drawstring bags, and liquids in steel vessels or thermal flasks. Carry your own bottle to events and festivals. 
  4. Consider replacing shampoo bottles with shampoo bars or soap nuts to reduce landfill dumping.
  5. Take a bucket and mug bath instead of the showerhead – it's a chill way to conserve water.
  6. Swap out plastic-wrapped junk food for homemade meals to make a healthier choice
  7. Opt for reusable nappies and menstrual cups or reusable underwear. 
  8. For men take a step back and get a straight razor. Just sharpen the blade.

Opt for thrifting 

When you go thrifting, you're taking a step in conserving resources and energy, as it doesn’t drive demand for new items. You're not fueling the whole ‘make more, buy more’ cycle. This lessens fabric waste, lowers the water footprint of clothing and keeps clothes out of a landfill, indirectly reducing pollution from clothing production. 

For the uninitiated, thrifting involves acquiring (typically fashion) items that are either surplus rejects from brands, pre-owned, or items that have been recycled or upcycled by thrift stores. The latter often benefit local communities and charities, contributing to waste reduction, cleaner air, and a healthier environment. 

The key is to look for local thrift shops, online or offline, and opt for high-quality, long-lasting products that can withstand wear and tear, ultimately reducing the necessity for frequent replacements. Instagram has become a hot spot for thrift stores to gather momentum and spearhead the anti-fast fashion movement. The few notable ones are Bombay Closet Cleanse, Copper Boom Vintage, Lulu Thrift, etc. 

Participate in clean-up drives 

Take an active role in your communities by participating in clean-up drives and awareness campaigns. These initiatives not only help in removing existing waste but also educate people about the importance of responsible waste management. By organizing or joining clean-up events in parks, beaches, and streets, citizens can make a visible impact on their surroundings and inspire others to do the same. 

Citizens in Mumbai in the past had taken it upon themselves and organised clean-up projects in Versova and Mahim beaches. 

In the face of India's staggering waste problem, it's clear that individual actions can lead to significant change. The statistics may seem daunting, but the steps we can take as individuals are both practical and impactful. From waste segregation to composting, recycling, and thrifting, each action contributes to a cleaner, greener, and more sustainable future for our nation.

It's encouraging to see that many organizations and communities are actively working towards waste reduction and responsible management. Whether it's local initiatives or businesses embracing recycled materials, the movement is growing. 

There is light at the end of the tunnel to turn the tide against our growing waste problem. Every small effort counts in the journey toward a cleaner and greener India. Together, we can pave the way for a brighter and more sustainable future for generations to come. 

Category : Nature


Written by Madhuwanti Saha

Writer, daydreamer, procrastinator