My waste, my responsibility


THERE is no denying the fact that solid waste management has become daunting and mammoth task across the world. In Pakistan alone, with the exception of few, most of the areas are still inundated with huge heaps of garbage alongside the unpaved roads, railway tracks, canals, empty plots and temporary dumpsites – portrays the appalling status and emanates various environmental, social and aesthetics issues. It’s because of rampant population explosion followed by inadequate management practices left this issue unintended for decades. The annual waste generation has already 48 million tons; increasing over two per cent every year. Presently, Karachi depicts abominable scenario pertaining to waste. It’s almost near to impossible lifting of 10 years of unintended waste—a gargantuan task for concerned authorities owing to insufficient manpower and resources. Hence, huge piles of solid waste at various points have become alarming not only to environment but it has also put human health in jeopardy. Now here the question emanates who is to blame for this imbroglio – Government, Private Partners, Experts or Public? To be honest, no one is blame free.
It’s not a right approach to blame government; public and others are equally responsible for this prevailing menace. Our alma maters and other experts in this field who always come up with innovative ideas of producing compost from organic waste or energy from rest of the waste by giving examples of developing countries without realizing the actual scenario. This is the main problem which manifests the gap between market and institutions. The nature of generated waste in Pakistan is not as in Turkey, Japan, Germany and other countries whom case studies we often present in our syllabus and conferences. There is a dire need to hit the bull’s eye and manage things accordingly. The waste generated from households is not good for compost (fertilizer) owing to moisture content and same goes to rest in case of energy. To get desired results, we need to ensure segregation at household level but again it needs awareness. Firstly, different color bins can be placed in commercial areas by mentioning category of waste like organics (fruit and vegetables) or inorganics (plastic, metals etc.). At second stage, residential areas can be targeted. This would generate revenue from organic waste in the form of fertilizer and rest may be sold as recyclables. However at this juncture, role of scavengers shouldn’t be ignored as recyclables they extract from waste is the source of livelihood for them. Government along with concerned stakeholders must device a mechanism to include them in a legal system and provide them incentives such as personal protective equipment and basic aid to avoid exposure to various hazardous things owing to their contribution to an environment and nature conservation. Remember, all the success stories of developing world we quote didn’t earn this status overnight. It’s a gradual process to become culture.
Moreover, government and concerned authorities always react haphazardly without taking into account the real root-cause and seem to squander massive resources for nothing. Apart from obsolete legislation, lack of trained personnel, futile infrastructure and financial constraints, one of the major reasons of this conundrum is lack of awareness amongst the people. Generally, public is least bothered about their waste management and they throw it unintended in streets and roadsides. At government level, apart from imparting education, fines must be imposed over this practice. Considering this a burning issue, all stakeholders must be on board in order to reap desired results. Institutions can update the syllabus accordingly from primary level and sensitize and educate upcoming generations. Experts from foreign and local universities can be invited to share solution based ideas. Assignments, projects and dissertation must consider burning issues and share pragmatic solutions to government and authorities. This would fill the gap between market and institutions. Students must be engaged to create awareness and sensitize masses about waste management and convince them to do segregation before collection. There are various small scale projects already in place, which can be expanded to larger scale.
However, at government level, no doubt, huge resources and manpower is required for primary and secondary collection of waste and government is already spending billions in this regard but desired results are not on the board. One way to solve this problem is to provide incentives to the public. Secondary collection points can be established at proposed locations where waste will be collected through machinery and reward must be there with respect to weight or appropriate segregation. It will surely save the primary collection cost and ensure cleanliness. Pilot project may include low income areas first, then, can be expanded to rest. Taking all in consideration, it’s pertinent to mention that adequate waste management practices reap multiple benefits by protecting environment and reducing health cost. Lo and behold, ignorance and complacency would only lead to unprecedented repercussions as it becomes a part of our food chain. This is true what goes around comes around. Plastic bags episodes, marine life and amount of plastic consumed by fishes is the most prominent example. Therefore, there is a dire need for all stakeholders to join hands irrespective of their vested interest in order to save environment and conserve the nature for future generations. Let’s raise this slogan at every level “My waste, My responsibility”.
—The writer is Health Safety & Environment Officer in Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre.