A WASTE OF WASTE

Tara Narayan throws some light on the serious issue of garbage in Panjim and what ails the collection system

YOU see it everywhere. Green garbage, garden waste, biodegradable refuse – people sweep it up or dump it beneath trees, in a corner of their compounds, down the street, especially beneath trees dotting the urban landscape no matter where we go in Panjim. These green garbage dumps turn into loathsome mixed garbage dumps and Municipal Solid Waste in-charge Sachin Ambe says no technology can address a mixed garbage problem. It is a serious issue.
The citizens of Panjim have a door-to-door collection of wet and dry garbage. They should work with it to make the lives of Corporation of the City of Panjim (CCP) workers much easier. In fact, CCP workers have been told not to pick mixed garbage. So we have our green waste heaps becoming mixed garbage dumps which hang around forever to become memorable monuments of garbage. Affected citizens are at the mercy of CCP indulgence. Call up the superiors, appeal to workers, cajole them, humour them, give them some money, “Please, please, please remove this mixed garbage dump in front of my house before it gets bigger!”
The irony is that if in the first place the original green garden waste remains green, it would automatically degenerate in a couple of months, and revert to Mother Earth’s fertile earth. Green garbage or ‘Bhagwan’s kachra’ as I like to call it is 100 per cent biodegradable. So why should it be a problem and why don’t CCP workers pick it up and compost it before it turns into mixed garbage dumps?
It’s one of those easy-to-think, hard-to-do situations of public life even for the CCP, and its officials and workers. Sachin Ambe spent a Sunday morning clueing me up on a fascinating story. Of course their municipal social workers pick up green garbage every day in trucks, but there is just so much of it! Panjim is a garden city and we are lucky enough to be blessed by trees which keep our environment cool, refreshed with oxygen to breathe.
CCP daily wage workers pick up three to three-and-a-half tons of residential and commercial biodegradable wet waste daily. Each housing society generates about 30-50 kg of organic waste. Much of the city’s biodegradable waste goes to the official CCP’s bulk composting site at Patto. The site is already acutely overburdened and no longer manageable.
Ambe exclaims, “Imagine half-a-dozen families living in a two-bedroom flat with perhaps one bathroom!” This is more or less the scenario being played out several times over at the compost site. He is not surprised that folk complain of the stink it raises in the business district.
OBVIOUSLY something is wrong because natural composting is not happening as perfectly as it should and there are complaints that CCP compost is not top quality either – even if it sells at `3 to `10 per kg. The market for compost has its own logical scale, the more you buy, the less you pay! Many landscapers and individuals buy their compost, but here is a shocker. Ambe says he has 30 to 40 truckloads (2,000 kgs each) of compost at Patto waiting for buyers! It’s a mindboggling amount and under the circumstances, why pick up more green garbage to turn into compost?
Few are buying the compost in bulk. Of course, if they give it away free, there would be many takers! Even the Forest Department wants to take it free, but Ambe says, “I think they can afford to pay us for the compost!” As for the quality, he shrugs. It is true compost should meet Foreign and Commonwealth Office norms, “But we have no labs to test each batch so how can we give quality assurance?” There is a 2016 CCP ruling which mandates agricultural departments to set up labs for testing, but it is not happening for whatever reasons.
Clearly composting biodegradable garbage from Panjim has come to a virtual halt. Apart from Patto, the department takes care of 96 organic composting units in public places and residential housing colonies. The yield is either taken by society residents or the CCP. They had started the composting scheme beginning with a composting unit at Pai Bhavan in 2005.
This was soon after the CCP decided to do away with street bins in favour of door-to-door collection of wet (biodegradable) and dry (non-biodegradable) garbage in 2002. In the old system, garbage was more outside than in the bins and created a far worse situation. Bin-less city Panjim is much better off today and systematic collection is easier for staff. Door-to-door collection has worked and Panjim is probably the only city with such a commendable scheme in place (others in India are trying to copy it in vain).
The composting units in societies grew from strength to strength, but Ambe observes, “We set it up for residents but none of the housing societies now want to take independent charge of managing their own units. If our workers didn’t attend to them they would all collapse.” It’s some kind of a testimony to the type of citizens we are!
It would be a boon if individual housing societies took charge of their own units and dealt with them independently. Ambe wonders if they can get NGOs to maintain Panjim’s composting units. As far as green garden garbage is concerned, if they can’t find more composting places, it doesn’t make sense to collect it. Where would they put it? They are thinking of creating local sites in Panjim’s public gardens, but this has to be worked out in an organised manner.
What’s happening currently is that locals and even CCP workers simply pile up garden litter and leave it to turn into mixed garbage which is set on fire making life hard for those who suffer from respiratory ailments in the vicinity. Often, the trees under which it is set alight burns too.
Ambe says the issue of garbage should be a collective effort with citizens feeling responsible, and doing all they can to help CCP workers. But rich or poor, we are not a people who think about garbage with any seriousness. If it is not picked up at our doorstep we like to pack up our household’s mixed wet and dry garbage in plastic bags and dump them at the nearest convenient place (in front of our homes, in the gutter, in front of somebody else’s house while going for a walk), or beneath a tree.
That’s our attitude towards garbage. Before one understands green garbage specifically, one must understand how complex the entire issue of garbage is in its nitty gritty. In Ambe’s experience, the poor are open to education but not the rich who are arrogant and rude. “If I tell them not to throw their bags of garbage out on the streets they will turn around and say, “I’m paying you to pick it up, `1 a day, `300 a month; it’s your job to pick it up.”
Say it is all part of public attitude towards garbage in Panjim and Goa. We Indians, including Goans, are still stuck in the mindset that picking up garbage is someone else’s job. Many will testify to seeing drivers of cars with dark windows throwing colourful plastic bags full of mixed garbage on the street. Often the garbage may spill out like some chequered urban artwork of more rich than educated citizens!
Such is our attitude vis-à-vis the garbage we create for others to clean up. The issue is as complex as our Indian mentality. Some of us don’t care if we live with garbage around us, some of us care and try to run interference, help CCP workers do their job. Door-to-door collection of wet kitchen waste is daily, dry garbage of plastics, glass, metal, electronic bits and pieces, batteries, etc, twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.
Ambe muses, “Our attitude changes the moment we go out of India. I don’t see Indians throwing garbage or littering in London or Dubai. Why do we behave like this only in our own country? There they are afraid of being fined or landing in jail. Here if I catch someone red-handed, he/she will turn around and when I try to fine them, they will neither tell me their name and address nor pay the fine. They are not scared!”
He would like to run a trial campaign with a squad catching perpetrators who do their dirty job late in the night or in the early hours of the day. But is this practical or even feasible, given our political system?
One last question: What is the department’s budget for dealing with garbage and how much money does the sale of compost bring in? He smiled wryly, “Annually, we earn `40,000 to `50,000 on compost sales and our budget is about `11 crores. You may say we get back about 30 to 35 per cent of revenue spent!”
What he is looking is for incentives for citizens to take care of their own wet or biodegradable waste and leave the CCP free to tackle only non-biodegradable waste.
One scheme they have invested in is the sale of green and black dustbins and while citizens may buy them, they may also collect them free against house rent receipt copies. People understand the language of incentives, getting something they want for something they don’t want.
How can Panjim ever become a smart city if it continues to wallow in its various kinds of garbage?

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