Sunday, November 29, 2009

Garbage talk

Let's begin by looking at a pleasing sight from Engelberg, Switzerland - above picture. Notice the trolleys inside this 'house', containing sacs (of garbage). Nearby houses have put that there for the truck that would come and pick them up. They show to the world why they are better progressed, through little things like this.

Another garbage trolley there!


Now to our familiar situation from the past and present.

In villages, there is an old adage in Kannada “Thippe nodi hennu kodu”, which means, “Look at the garbage pile and give the daughter in marriage”. The garbage pile behind the house is an indicator of the family’s prosperity. It is a subtle way to verify it before the marriage is agreed upon! Garbage in villages being organic is usually recycled as manure, but what about in a growing city like Mysore?

Mysore city before the turn of the 19th century was mainly around the Mysore Palace, called the old Fort area. Though they were days when garbage was not an issue, congestion of houses and improper drainage which was found to be the causes of diseases, necessitated staggering which gave rise to new localities. Old areas like Chamarajapuram and Lakshmipuram were planned in such a way that all houses were provided with conservancies (gullies). A conservancy ran parallel between two streets in such a way that it was behind and shared by the houses of those two streets. All the underground drainage pipes are laid there so that no interference was caused to public. All houses had backdoors opening to the conservancy so that the scavengers could come in, clean the toilets and pick up the night soil (from houses not connected to the drainage system). “Attached toilets” slowly arrived later as a fancy and have come to stay when porcelain commodes became popular and easy to maintain. The conservancy is meant for disposing off the garbage. Trimmed branches from trees and shrubs were used up as fuel and were never thrown off. So the narrow passage of the gully was also not blocked up.

A gully was not a thoroughfare. Entering a gully was taboo. Thieves chose the gullies because others dared to chase them there! To avoid being caught, a wrongdoer theoretically “ran through gullies and escaped!”

I remember a few times I had entered our conservancy with a friend during the mid 60s, in search of empty cigarette packs that we boys needed for our games! Berkeley was common, Navy Cut, Scissors, Wills… I had got a few packs that smokers had thrown out of their houses. Pigs (some adventurous boys used to chase pigs for fun here!) used to roam there – for a time I had got afraid, even though it was behind our own house! It was so lonely, not anymore (pictured below). I had got a strict warning for this act when my grandmother came to know about my entering the conservancy. The picture below is of the same gully as it is now – see how it has ‘developed’ into a mini street! (The corner house of the neighbour has been demolished.)

The city was clean even up to around the mid 70s. Plastics were yet to invade (into cleanliness!). Garbage, being organic in nature in those days, never posed a problem because people threw them only into their conservancies. Municipal carts would clear off the garbage periodically. Most of the things decomposed and disintegrated naturally. Garbage was never a public or environment hazard (like it is now) nor presented ugly sights because they were only in conservancies.

Mysore’s salubrious climate and all the other goodies have attracted people from other places. The growth of such population gradually killed the conservancy system and necessitated conversion of conservancies into little lanes what with families growing over time. Small houses were built in the open spaces behind the main houses and rented out. Entries were through conservancies, which eventually became narrow streets (without a name). Now, many of them have even been asphalted and provided with ‘street lights’! Some of the conservancies have survived, like the one behind Maharaja’s College hostel (pictured below). This is one of the longest, but totally neglected and wild.

With conservancies exploited that way, and with plastics invading every citizen, garbage came on to the streets to public view in large masses as life styles of urbanites also changed by the end of the millennium.

Coming back to the growing city of Mysore, garbage disposal is becoming a major problem and challenge to the administration, what with people’s apathy! Each week hundreds of tonnes of garbage are being created (leave alone the medical wastes from tens of hospitals etc.!) One of the main culprits is the packaging materials of various items. Convenient in every aspect till it reaches the customer, it has started to pose environmental threat. Each lozenge, each chocolate, each dose of ‘supari’, each packet of biscuit and everything you can imagine, including vegetables (big shopping malls), is wrapped up with inorganic plastic/polyethylene and the likes and are flooding our homes even if we do not like to accept them!

Till the 1970s or 80s, biscuits came in wax coated paper wrappers or tins, many medicines came in glass bottles and confectionery items were usually sold loose. The papers went into the oven, tins and bottles reused in one way or other! As such, waste disposal was minimal in earlier decades. Homes never had a ‘waste bin’, only conservancies! Streets were clean and storm water flowed freely in drains, clean as a whistle! It used to be actually quite a sight to see water gushing in the drains as we played in the rain! There was no plastic to clog them up, like it does and it is a nightmare in low lying areas in the post-plastic era!

You can see how people tear open a packet of supari or chocolate, drop the contents into their mouths and just throw the packet then and there. This is just a small example of bad civic sense and carelessness and their contribution to the problem may look tiny, but on a larger scale, and with bigger things, it is measured in tonnes!

Municipal sweepers sweep up these thrown and strewn off wastes from homes in the locality and to avoid being lifted, are often burnt up at the spot or left alone to form a hill! This is the ugliest sight also, because plastic carry bags, covers and the likes are main contents! Plastic swallowed by straying cattle has resulted in choking in their intestines have also been killed! Burning inorganic wastes is adding poison to the air we breathe and contributing to ‘erratic climate’ on a higher plane. I wonder if a majority of the public are aware of it or not, despite being so much in the news.

BURNING WASTE IN PUBLIC IS A COMMON SIGHT HERE, AS IF BY RIGHT. No wonder the Corporation would get an award for Solid Waste 'Management'!

It is mid day and this "pourakarmkia" who sweeps the area in the morning has just lighted a match to the pile that he created in the morning - the van skips this route on many days!

That is the fire he started. And look at the material.... majority is INORGANIC.

A "pourakarmika" saves his energy... goes back to the garbage truck after starting fire to the pile - 2008 scene on Vani Vilas Road.

Plastic has its great pluses. It is probably the most abused and misused item thus exposing only its minuses. We have reached a stage due to more of our own neglect and some ignorance, when we have to stop (you cannot take a deep breath!) and think about using or accepting plastic and doing it very judiciously. We have also reached a stage we cannot be totally plastic-free. If we have to be strictly so, we cannot buy anything in the market now! Gone are the days when we used to buy our monthly provisions (or whatever, in fact) which were packed in paper covers and fastened by thin jute threads (no staple pins or cello tapes). Sometimes some of the packets used to get damaged in the main bag and it was quite a chore to sort two different materials out, like wheat and dhals or sugar! Paper cones are still in vogue esp. with street vendors that sell various things like peanuts, churumuri, etc.

Cows search for something organic!

I wonder who started this one at 7 pm!

This troubled us for 6 hours and suffocated the residents. Who cares?

That rag picker on the right started the fire and burnt some clothes - synthetic clothes and I requested a neighbourhood boy to put off the fire and smoke that was deadly... Nobody cares!

This is right in front of a nursing home on Vani Vilas Road. That rag-picker is burning a huge pile on the main road pavement... Nobody bothers about those!

Go to any gathering, like the ones in homes or to marriage halls (many of them have banned plastic which is heartening to note) and you will find ‘disposable’ plastic cups to serve water etc.

To add to the woes, we now we have inorganic “banana leaves” used to serve food in large gatherings! These are nothing but laminated paper printed like banana leaf – we eat hot food out from the laminated surface! Notebook wrappers are laminated, so are small cartons that we buy so many things in. They are later added to the garbage. We are forced to buy and contribute such poison into the environment.

So who is to blame and what is the solution to this great garbage problem? The shopkeeper raises his eyebrows when I refuse to accept his thin carry bag saying I have my own bag! He says that people demand for it even if they have their own bag saying “cannot you give even one small bag?”

Some public places in Mysore have a plastic bin erected on a stand to enable easy tilting for emptying. I had seen one in melted condition! Someone had put fire to the contents!

Manuvana Park - supposed to degrade into manure - but what are those on top of the pile?!

Segregation at micro level is the best but it has to be seen that it stays that way till the last stage, which is yet to be achieved given the present ‘administrative set up’. Garbage management is such a challenge in our context. Recycling has no meaning if they are not properly segregated. Many foreign countries are effectively doing because most importantly, it has people’s cooperation and sense of cleanliness at every step and the citizens are awake to their civic responsibilities. Here, we are ignorant, negligent and irresponsible. Unless we rid of that ‘who cares’ attitude, we continue to breathe poisonous air, drink contaminated water (from bore wells) and blame the authorities!

I sometimes wonder if our citizens (including the administration) have started to think that poisonous air, ugly sight and even stench created by ‘modern day garbage’ are part of the environment. Recently, in November 2009, we heard that Mysore City Corporation got some award for Solid Waste Management! I wonder if it was only for the 10 days of the past Dasara for the “extra effort” it so much publicized. Dubiousness of this award can never be dismissed!

It was evening and this dust bin was on fire.

The Kings of Mysore strived for a very clean city and actually made it with years of great effort because people respected the law and also cooperated and loved the city from their hearts. Such beauty, cleanliness and that genuine spirit seems forgotten and destroyed now…. forever. Has the influx of people from outside have a great role in this, I shudder. There are only a few who can proudly call “My Mysore”!

The garbage we have been creating here in our growing Mysore (also in many big cities) is no ‘village house garbage’, which I referred at the beginning, but very very toxic. None can argue that Mysore’s uncleared “thippes” (garbage piles) and their contents are clear indices to the city’s prosperity and progress and in what direction is anybody’s guess.

To close, here are a few conservancies in Chamarajapuram that are now mini streets!

At least, let us hope things will improve in our lifetimes and imitate the West in these things rather than other trivial attractions!


GW said...

I was unfamiliar with the whole conservancy system. So, people would just dump raw sewage back there, then? No wonder you were admonished not to play back there.

Plastic packaging is a big issue all around the world. It's ridiculous how many layers of the stuff surrounds products and how frustrating it is to extradite a purchase from its housing sometimes. And then to think of it piling up around us...

mandyam said...

Hi! Dinakar
Good historical account of waste management in the city of Mysore.
Only note the inaccuracy about
Inorganics.Both Polythene/.. &
banana leaves are organic.while banana leaves are biodegradable and
is therefore are not bioaccummulators ,the plastics mentioned by you are non-biodegradable.Hydrocarbons are
valuable fuel if properly burnt only PVC incineration needs attention as Dioxins are produced if combusted without sophisticated
flue gas treatment.

Dreamers in Action said...

Wonderful, Dinu!. I read the article with both pain and admiration. I would soon write to reminisce about the conservancy lane behind my house in Shankarapuram, Bangalore, the only other city to have that planned luxury.

ER Ramachandran said...

Dino: Good post.Thanks.

There is a law against burning waste in public. Please send the article to MCC commissioner and Mayor. I think such a good article should achieve the end-result -that is banning burning the waste by pourakarmikas! Kindly follow up with MCC.

Dinakar KR said...

Conservancies were unhygienic places but not so rotten as it is on the street sides now! That's what population pressure can do.

I was just trying to make only two classifications: organic and inorganic. Organic would be broadly, bio-degradable and inorganic, poisonous or stay in its state forever or a very long time. Plastic - in the latter group. Just trying to be simple. Many thanks for the technical explanation.

Dreamers in Action,
Shankarapuram is also an old locality which I'm familiar esp. 5th cross, near NH ground. Nice vintage area. Look forward to your write-up. Kindly remember to link it up.

There are so many laws. But who will monitor the law-breakers in broad daylight? Even if caught, is there any punishment? Needless to say about 'shame'. Once, even the pourakarmika contractor himself was putting the pile on fire. A neighbor had thrown some thorny plants also on to the main road to which so much plastic waste and whatnot were added by the p'karmika. When I asked him why he was doing it, the contractor sheepishly smiled saying 'thorns, sir'!

There so much such nuisance we are facing everyday on this main road junction paying heavy taxes and getting these in return - poisonous smoke, filth and garbage etc.! This is just one example near our house, but I've seen it happen in some other places also.

The P'karmika scolds me in foul language when I ask him not to burn things.. "go and complain to whoever you want..." That is the state of affairs!

ER Ramachandran said...

I agree. Still it is better to make an attempt than leave it saying, 'Nothing will change'.

YOSEE said...

Garbage management is a real vexing subject. Especially in India where there is not only no accountability among "Public Servants", but no civil sense in the citizenry either. Everyone thinks its someone else's problem. Even "educated" people throw bags of garbage into conservancy lanes, storm water drains and pavements, the justification being " everyone is doing it".
Unless the task is micromanaged and localised streetwise or localitywise, there can be no headway. In Chennai, a Singapore company was given licence to manage collection and disposal in certain localities and they do a fairly decent job. Also,residents were instructed to segregate Bio-Degradable and Non-BD waste before disposal, so that two different carriers collect them for easier processing. In Bangalore too, there an outfit which receives degradable waste, out of which it produces nutrient rich bio-fertilizers. Such initiatives of small capacity, if organised in each ward, will greatly reduce overall chaos.

Dinakar KR said...

Yes, it is like someone who is truthfully obeying a law in public being looked at with raised eyebrows! It happens. I tried to segregate in covers and put it out, but when a curious, loitering rag picker spotted them, he wanted to see what it contained! So the contents were all out, defeating the purpose. A system should come in where residents have to hand over garbage covers directly to the main truck/van. There should be no allotted place for people to throw them on public space. It becomes easier for them to maintain hygiene also. Some areas like Sunnadakeri and Mandi Mohalla generate so much rotten stuff that the 'throwing area' remains filthy 24x7 despite cleaning. I am sure it has been a nightmare for the poor Pourakarmikas also. I saw them throwing DDT powder on the area which is again adding poison to the environment. We cannot also follow a garbage truck close because of the stench and danger of pieces flying out! That's how the present system is working. Even the appearance of vehicles are so dirty and nauseating. When will they improve these also?

jothi's jottings said...

Wish someone would soon find a full proof way to get rid of all the waste plastics without adding to the pollution ! Nice post! Must make all of us think of using once again the cotton bags we used to in the past.