In Bangalore, they separate waste to save the city

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In Bangalore, they separate waste to save their city

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara


Plastic recycling in India. (Cory Doctorow under a Creative Commons Licence)

There’s a lot to complain about, for sure. But after so many terrible stories about rape and other horrible things, I decided to write about some stories of hope; also, because it’s almost Christmas.

When I opened my favourite newspaper, The Hindu, this morning, with all the terrible stories about rape and politics, there was a story that made me feel happy. In Bangalore, there’s a new system to encourage Bangaloreans to sell their rubbish. Yes: someone pays us, in India, to give them our waste.

Now people have been recycling for a very long time in most Asian, African and South American countries. When I was a child, we were happy to collect all the empty beer bottles after my dad’s friends left. We got a few paise (pennies) for the beer bottles - more than the vinegar bottles from the kitchen! We saved newspapers too, and sold them to a 'bikri-wallah', (a man who came round singing every morning with a sack on his back).

I remember reading British stories written just after the war, when people saved and recycled, not went shopping and spent money. People had less waste and saved newspapers and glass jars to use again. It seems that Indians who live in cities (especially the ones who have got rich quickly in the last decade because of big business and IT in cities like Bangalore and Bombay) hate the idea of any recycling. They think they are too important for that, and they produce mountains of waste every day. With internet shopping, everything is cheaper, but this is very bad for the environment. Everything they buy has a lot of bubble-wrap, Styrofoam and/or lots of plastic: books, gifts, clothes and food delivered to the door. I think this generation is terrible – they have everything and they want more; they know all about technology and social networks and they think they know everything, but they don’t even try to separate and recycle their waste. I hope the new Bangalore system will make a difference and make people separate to save their city, and then the planet.

Germany is better than most of the world at recycling. In the early nineties, I was amazed at the very big bins in all apartments to separate bottles, paper and plastic. And everyone used them. And I was staying with students where poorer people lived. But even twenty years ago, everyone knew a lot about recycling. At the supermarkets people thought it was bad if you asked for a plastic bag. Britain was a lot better in the early nineties than the US, where they had ‘garbage compressors’ to make the very large amounts of waste look smaller. But no-one worried about consumerism or the environment.

So the new Bangalore system gives me hope. Because it’s here, in this city of technology, full of IT experts from all over the country, that we need the recycling so much. These are the people, with IT brains but no common sense, who eat the worst (for their health) fast food. Pizza and lamb-burgers packed in plastic and Styrofoam as they work all night to finish the important work. The businesses need to educate their staff about responsibility.

I think small changes are very important. Because the small steps will help us move on.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).