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What a Waste!

Bunty is a twenty two year old millennial, a young professional and an aspirant of good life with a bright future. He has recently graduated in Economics, and is working with a conglomerate. He is disciplined, hardworking and committed. He has migrated from his small town into this large metropolis. Let us take this journey from the eyes of Bunty.

Chapter 1: HOME

Coming from humble, middle-income background, Bunty is conservative in his expenditure and uses things that are usually only essential for his living. He currently resides alone in a studio apartment.

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Bunty, for his age, like many others is sensitive and responsible in the way he consumes his daily need items.

For every item we buy from groceries to furniture, toiletries to clothes and footwear, even eco-friendly products to electronics; we’re essentially buying some garbage along with these products. Moreover, many of these item’s end destination is also in a dumpster.

The upbringing in most Indian households though, teaches from a very young age to be careful with how we use our things. A good shaped bottle, therefore becomes a daily driver to carry tepid water or coffee while heading to gym, cycling or work. A jam jar is reused to store a variety of things – from chutney to pulses – depending on its size, a carton box of an appliance to hold winter clothes, old newspapers as a liner for cupboard or wardrobe, we also have different grades of retail bags to carry lunch, groceries, vegetables or laundry clothes... the list is endless. Reusing old things is ingrained in our lifestyle!

Today, we’re even consciously trying to segregate the waste – recyclable and organic at least. Well, at a household level many of us, like Bunty, believe in reusing and recycling. But, are we essentially reducing our waste, ergo consumption?

Chapter 2: COMMUNITY

Bunty is proactive in his housing society. With the fellow residents, he is currently participating in an active drive informing people in the neighbourhood about the necessity for garbage segregation. 

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Bunty’s active participation has fetched him an award from CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) team at work and given him recognition in his society

The idea from home of reusing products alters into the never-ending cycle of recycling the waste at a community level. Recycling is a relatively new term, at least for most urban dwellers. And with more and more apartments and neighbourhoods implementing the concept of segregating waste, the awareness is spreading. But this concept too perhaps seems skewed. Why?

Once these countless bags leave a community, it is not their concern anymore. These bags can go into a bio waste plant to make compost or for further segregation, sorting and recycling or into the dumping grounds and landfills. The community has done its job!

Research indicates that only a fraction of a percentage of waste actually gets segregated scientifically, and the rest eventually goes into landfills. Moreover, after segregation even to recycle any sort of waste means consumption of more resources and energy.

So, shouldn’t we segregate and recycle? While the effort is commendable (and also necessary) it is only leading to transfer of waste from one point to another. A shampoo jar, a cola bottle, a chocolate wrapper – each of it is transferring of waste from a higher order to a lower in the societal pyramid – from manufacturer to consumer to ultimately leaving this pile for the scavengers and rag-pickers to manage.

Chapter 3: WORK

Bunty ensures that his office procures stationary from Eco-Shop. He not only subscribes the idea of being ecologically sensitive, but also motivates and inspires his colleagues to follow this path.

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The HR department constantly gives example of Bunty’s commendable efforts at their recurring workshops for employees to motivate and inspire them.

From one’s residence when we move to one’s work space, the sense of identity or belongingness slightly dissipates. From what is belonging to one, now belongs to everybody. That simply translates to everybody is responsible. The word ‘everybody’ refers vaguely to all and not to any one individual in particular.

Therefore, do we let ourselves a bit loose here then? Is there a lesser sense of responsibility? Be it in any aspect - from how we use a printer or stationary to using the air conditioners differs between office and working from home. The answer, perhaps lies in our actions.

But this is not just about work environment. This sort of mindlessness happens in many other areas beyond home where the notion of ‘everybody’ being responsible comes – then be it at a conference or a workshop, exhibition, dining with friends at a restaurant or even a wedding – everybody and nobody is responsible!

Why this ambiguity in behaviour between the home and outside? This comes from the outlook one has about collective responsibility. “I’m responsible, but only as a herd”, is the mantra. 

Chapter 4: TRAVEL

Be it for work or pleasure, Bunty takes every single opportunity to travel. This time he’s visiting an exotic beach town to give a keynote presentation on his CSR initiative.

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Sitting by the beach as Bunty contemplates his community as well as social achievements. He feels content and proud of his achievement.

Often our character prints all the pages of his reservations – including the unnecessary terms and conditions – that one hardly bothers reading. He also prints multiple copies of such tickets and reservations and bookings, to be safe though quite unnecessarily. Ring a bell? Are you (or someone around you know) guilty of similar actions? Of such, and many other actions, habitually we’re ignorant!

The probability of the irony of finding the same garbage that you consume at beach a thousand kilometres away from home may be remote. But the possibility that you’re the cause in this matter, although indirect, is high. The joke unravels here!

Not everybody intends to cause damage to the nature and surrounding that we live in – at least not consciously or intentionally. It is though the lack of this insensitivity of understanding the overall picture in sensitive beings is impacting our livelihood and the life around us without our realisation.

The notion of ‘everybody is responsible’ needs to alter in its essence. The word ‘everybody’ needs to be replaced with ‘an individual’. Will that bring the onus on each individual? Perhaps, in this narrative at least, it’ll start to highlight one’s actions and hopefully catches attention.

Now, Bunty’s story sounds very similar to that of Bubli’s… It could be Chabli, Mougli or even You… Doesn’t it?

This story is pretty much the same, not the way it is laid out, but fundamentally. Each time we tend to forget the larger picture, and look for what is convenient now – be it mindless consumption or merely getting the waste out of ‘my’ sight, doesn’t matter what the repercussions are.

But hey, everyone is guilty here… the policy makers, manufacturers, consumers and the waste managers. Ah! It’s a relief that it’s ‘everyone’. Well, WAKE UP! ‘Everyone’ refers to ‘Each one of us’.

Does the tone have a hint of morality? Absolutely not. It is only attempting to highlight the consequence of our very own actions.

We have to realise that waste is not only about recycling and segregating, but also about mindful, sensitive and efficient consumption. This needs to engrain into each individual and collectively as a society.

But hey, is that enough?

Most certainly not.

A protein bar, a cola bottle, the carton box, a jam jar… in fact if you look around you will notice that such waste is passed to you in all forms, sizes and shapes. Of course, you need some packaging, but is there a norm or a stringent law regulating this. The manufacturer has a liberty here. This is because the higher stakeholder in the strata, even higher than the manufacturer is allowing them to mindlessly produce it at first place!

When a campaign such as a clean India drive comes, individuals are made to believe that they’re the only cause in the matter. While it is true, what about the producers of that waste? Is there a cap put on such production or investment done in area to find alternative solutions? Sadly, not enough!

An individual’s role is only a cog in the wheel. A larger action that needs to trickle from the upper strata of the system is often neglected. The more one is to the bottom of this stratum, the more they will be looked upon. It’s only that for a wheel to function effectively, every cog needs to be functioning effectively too.

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