Making waste management a way of life

Until the start of this decade, most of us lived in denial as far as waste was concerned.  As long as our homes were kept clean, we really did not care where our waste went. Waste for us had no value and its management was the task of the authorities. This mindset has now changed as we now recognise that waste is not just waste but a resource. We accept that managing waste is as much “our problem” with its negative impact creeping back at us. The penny has somewhat dropped and some on the ground positive changes have come about. But to make these changes permanent and also move to the next level, waste management has to become a way of life.

For this to happen, waste management should be looked as a “cool thing to do” That can be done by making it a part of our everyday life and conversation.  Films, music and art based on waste themes has already begun to happen giving us more reasons to talk about the subject in interesting and exciting ways.  Last month, a very interesting film shot entirely in Gurugram called “Halka” was released. It was based on a slum child’s aspiration to construct a toilet for his house and evoked a strong emotive response to the Swachh Bharat cause. With painting competitions, music festivals and city art at public places devoted to waste management themes, city’s creative energies can flow to inspire and move people beyond their comfort zones to change.

Besides, the collective values of our society at large, needs to shift. Identifying, recognising and awarding “waste champions” from each of the 35 wards in Gurugram from RWAs, schools and villages in city-level functions continuously throughout the year. A swachhta medal or a batch that can be adorned by the champions will make them role models. Also, addressing sanitation workers in the city as “Swachhta Bandhus” could uplift their morale and dignity.

Schools and colleges are great places to trigger change. Some schools in Gurugram have already appointed “green ambassadors” to spread waste awareness who take up e-waste drives and cleanliness drives in the school neighbourhoods. In fact, if children learn about simple waste management techniques (like how to make compost) at school, they can start influencing behaviours at their homes. Birthday parties and other events could be green parties or zero waste events that use no plastics and ensure minimal wastage. Another cool thing will be to start gifting home-made compost or plants grown on home-made compost on festivals such as Diwali. 

All these ideas will not make sense unless it is backed by a robust – Information, Education and Communication (IEC) – strategy. An effective IEC strategy should be comprehensive in approach; have simple, relatable and well-integrated themes; and strong monitoring mechanisms.

Here are some must-haves as part of the IEC strategy. All key stakeholders – MLAs and councillors, RWA presidents and officials, panchayats, religious leaders, youth clubs, women groups – must be covered.  Communication must be simple establishing a clear linkage between poor sanitation and health. Doctors may be involved to convey these ideas more convincingly.  Using different modes of communication such as TV, hoardings, leaflets, workshops, apps and portals that have synergistic messages is recommended. Short motivational messages at critical locations such as the DC and ADC offices, courts, government departments, metros and public transport places could be put. Besides, one-to-one meetings with influencers such as village sarpanches, religious leaders keeping their perspective in mind, and listening to their issues and what they feel about waste management is important. Use of street plays and puppet shows in markets and villages could be undertaken. Swachhta pledges in schools, malls, villages and corporates can be organised. Another effective strategy is to revive and involve NSS, scouts guide and NCC in this mission. They could target key locations such as government hospitals, nursing homes, religious places and crowded markets need special emphasis.

Information helps bring empowerment. So once the collective consciousness of the city builds-up, courses for citizens where they can understand the various kinds of waste, waste solutions, get knowledge of vendors etc can to be organised.  For the swachta bandhus (sanitation workers), workshops that touch upon the right and safe waste processes and practices, equipping them with waste management techniques, and address their unique concerns would be useful. They are, after all, our “ground warriors” for change. 

Sometimes innovative messaging comes in handy. A smart alternative communication to “segregate your waste” is to tell people simply not to mix the various kinds of waste generated into bins. It suddenly takes away a lot of pressure of segregation. Besides, communicating that India has traditionally always had a “minimalistic” approach to waste and reused its waste sensibly is also important. (We shared clothes and books within family and friends and gave away vegetable waste to the cattles to feed). All we need is to tell people is to revive the same culture and values once again.

Indore got the No 1 spot in Swachh Sarvekshan Survey in 2017 and regained the title in 2018, as cleanliness has become everyone’s priority from the councillors, the NGOs to the common man. Till a few years ago, it was hard to imagine that Indore will pull this off as spitting paan residues in public places was common, markets were dirty and the city had open waste dumps. But with mass awareness and pride attached to cleanliness, each citizen has become a watch dog. “Ho Hallah” – the Indore Swachh Anthem by Bollywood play back singer Shaan is so popular that many Indorites use the track as their caller tunes. The city has now taken up the challenge to see that “Indore rahega No 1”.

What Gurugram needs is the same passion and commitment.  Once a positive cycle sweeps in, the results will be permanent and for all to see. Then, waste management would have become a way of life.   

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