A Mountain of Rejects headed for Landfill
An emotional connect with your waste is a skill that comes with understanding your own waste. It’s important because this understanding helps you go beyond your duty to just start separating waste and start understanding how it all works, unhealthy says Clinton Vaz.
|Last week was a busy week for us. We had to empty a lot of compost out of composting units in Vasco to make room for new waste that would go into the compost chambers. This process involves sieving the waste to remove larger debris like coconut shells, branches and half composted mango seeds that take longer to break down. Once sieved, all this goes back into the composter to further breakdown. But the sieve also separates contaminants like plastic bags, plastic films from food plates and dishwashing scrubbers, all items that should not have been found in the food waste in the first place. This is a really time consuming process, quite similar to finding a few needles in a large haystack.|
The sieved compost is then offered to residents to use. While this was happening last week, a resident complained that her compost contained a few milk bag corners and tiny other plastic debris. “Why has your compost got plastic in it?”, she asked Dost Mohammad, our waste treatment professional. Dost Mohammad knew exactly what to say. “Madam, if you and your neighbours were more careful of what you put into the wet waste bin, there would naturally be less plastic in your compost.”
World over, one of the most common problems in dealing with waste is that it is mixed in the first place. While we insist at vRecycle, the waste management firm my wife Emma and I run, that all our waste must be separated at source, it does not help us that everywhere else, mixed waste collection is the norm. We often have to deal with clients who ask us why we are being so strict when the ‘municipality’ next door picked up mixed waste with no fuss.
Politicians who have absolutely no experience often complicate the problem by talking of mixed waste treatment plants. I have yet to see a mixed waste treatment plant that works efficiently and without any smell. To put it simply, separating mixed waste is only possible if we believe in magicians that would shout out “Abracadabra!” and make the mess go away. Consider baking a cake. Mix the flour with the eggs and beat it all to a batter. Can you now separate the egg from the flour? Pretty much impossible, quite like mixed waste. I have seen mechanized forms of recycling and the first step of it all is using machines called bag cutters that slice open plastic bags to empty their contents. This then further contaminates everything in sight, making more waste non-recyclable.
At the Fomento Green waste treatment plant located in Margao, this is exactly what happens. Mixed waste enters the plant, a large crane picks up a bucketful, and deposits it into a gigantic sieve. While spinning, food waste and other debris falls through smaller holes while the rest goes to the landfill. As a result, a lot of green waste, garden waste, recyclable waste, and a bit of non-recyclable waste all goes mixed into a permanent dump. The food waste along with the smaller debris is treated and finally turned into compost which of course has a lot of contaminants that slipped through. The total efficiency of waste reduction is somewhere between 15-20% of the total waste that enters the plant.
Now if everybody in Margao separated their waste as happens in Panjim, and Fomento’s plant were to get source-separated waste, with only food waste going to treatment, I can bet you that the waste reduction figure would shoot up to 80 or even 90%. Wow! Now that is efficient! But the real question is: Why are we still talking about waste separation?
It’s because people don’t connect with waste. We need to emotionally connect with our own waste. Its only when that happens that things start to change. My connect to my waste started in 1999 after a two-hour workshop on composting that I learnt from Claude Alvares. I returned home excited and found a container to compost. Over the next three months, I was fascinated to see earthworms eat up my food waste and turn it into fresh earthy manure. I kept asking myself why I had not begun earlier as it was so effective and fulfilling. 16 years later, everybody in my family would not think twice about composting their waste. Why, even Dollar, our dog digs up a tiny hole in the garden to compost her ‘business’ every morning. Animals always seem to be more sensible than us two-legged folk.
So why don’t you try looking into your waste bin today? I must tell you that it is dirty and smelly and yucky when you do, but when you start to separate your waste, the dry waste bin is so clean, you can put your hand in it, and your hand will still be clean. The food waste bin looks just like a big mixed fruit salad and when it goes into your composter, besides the nice earthy, citrusy smell, you feel really good about the big-huge-humongous difference you’ve just made. This is a feeling I promise you will cherish. So what are you waiting for?
Clinton & his wife Emma run vRecycle Waste Management Services, an enterprise that helps over 7000 homes manage their waste in Goa. If you would like to learn more or participate, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org/
Editor’s Note: This is the latest instalment of Goa Streets’ Keep Goa Beautiful initiative, inviting contributions from all those working toward a cleaner and greener Goa. The above contribution is from Clinton Vaz, a leading figure in Goa’s efforts to contain its garbage scourge and install a system of effective waste management.