Composting organic waste gave me a closer look at all the trash I was generating. Which then led me into the rabbit hole of segregation and wishful thinking (I began to hope that I lived in a place with an integrated waste management system). In case you live in a city or town that segregates and handles waste responsibly, here is what you need to know about your garbage. Even if you live in a place where large trucks shove everything together, do segregate your waste. Most dump yards have people who manually sort through mixed waste with no protective equipment. And a distressing number of such people are young children.
- Organic Waste:At the simplest level, this includes vegetable scraps. Organic waste can also include leftover cooked food, tea and coffee powder, eggshells, dried flowers, meat, and bones. Basically, if it came from a living thing and wasn’t processed too much, it is organic or ‘wet’ waste. Keep a bin or tub on the kitchen counter to collect these scraps. Try not to use plastic bags or liners for this container, because the plastic can neither be composted nor be easily recycled (since it is contaminated with wet waste). A plate or a mesh-work lid will keep flies away and prevent the food from stinking.
- Dry Waste:Dry waste consists of plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, and rubber. This is material that can be reused or recycled and can include even old shoes, clean takeout food containers, and the plastic handles of mops and brushes. However, do refrain from adding dangerous material like broken glass bottles. Also, rinse out bottles that used to contain cleaning liquids, especially those used in bathrooms, since the chemicals are corrosive and can hurt the people handling your waste.
- Sanitary Waste:Sanitary waste includes disposable sanitary napkins, disposable diapers, and anything that has come into contact with body fluids. This includes ear buds, condoms, cotton swabs, and bandages used to cover wounds. This waste needs to be handled separately and carefully, and therefore should be marked in some way before disposal. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) suggests wrapping this waste in newspaper and putting a red cross on it.
- Electronic Waste:A friend once told me that every house and office room has a small drawer or box with some ‘guilty’ waste – used batteries, broken CDs, unusable chargers, defunct cell phones, broken tubelights, used printer cartridges and so on. Most people realize intuitively that these things don’t belong with the other trash. But it is also hard to dispose them responsibly. So they slowly gather dust in a corner, and are happily left behind when the owner moves to a new space. Some municipal corporations have collection boxes for electronic waste, and many cities have companies who specialize in recycling such material.
These are the most common types of waste generated by individuals, families, and offices. The last, and most surprising category however, is household hazardous waste. This includes medicines and pesticides of course, but also nail colour, hair colour, mosquito repellents and cosmetics. If you have half-used bottles of concealer or hair dye that have zipped past their expiry date, wrap them separately so that they do not harm the people sorting through your waste (and consider reducing your consumption of these products).
Composting is often the gateway drug for people thinking about sustainable lifestyles. Thankfully, for many of us, a zero-waste lifestyle is part of living memory. There are parents or grandparents, who used shikakai and soap nuts, took cloth bags to the market, and ate off small donnais stitched from dried leaves. It takes a little conversation and a lot of determination to return to that way of life, but it could easily be a satisfying journey.