When you recognize the value; it’s no longer a waste!
-Devika Jaysell Along with the admirations about the Venice of the East, I was born and brought up with most of the exasperating news about Alappuzha, as it was vulnerable to few epidemic diseases since the mainland is surrounded by water bodies. Being a resident from Alappuzha this was so common that even my classmates mocked me by commenting on the sewage treatment and waste disposal methods of my district when I always keep praising its aesthetic looks. Though what they have mentioned was right to some extent, it had wounded me as I am madly in love with my place other than all these aspects which has presently evolved out with human interventions. Alappuzha was the land known for its backwaters, wetlands, paddy fields- Kuttanad, Houseboats, Bird Sanctuary, Biodiversity, large variety of fish species and I don’t know what not! This aesthetic rich classy guise has now turned it into one of the most attractive nature scenic places in Kerala and thus promotes tourism on a large scale. Is that the reason for the piling up of tonnes of waste behind the scenic beauty is still the question raised by the inhabitants. Those lakes and small streams that flow through the present township of Alappuzha have been once the mode of transportation for goods and services. Though people were using and utilizing it that time, it remained clean and waste free according to the local community. Then what has changed it to the current phase is as simple as to recognize; it is no one else, we ourselves. Due to population explosion, human intrusions and plastic revolution, this scenic place has now turned out to be a garbage land.
While I was studying in plus two, I had written a letter with my few friends to the Municipal chairperson regarding the accumulation of waste especially plastics near the bus stand and nearby areas of the schools with few newspaper reports. We took this as a significant matter since the succeeding month is monsoon which can turn this waste into the natal of many social and health issues. The next time I had witnessed the same waste disposal issues and littering on public places was while interning with Kila’s Canal rejuvenation programme. This actually made me go deep into the core Alleppey side which is partially connected to its mainland and its facilities. And thus realized that the greenery and crystal water of these canals and lakes had turned into the shading colour of autumn leaves as there exists improper Sewage water management.
When the drainage water vents from factories and households are directly connected to natural water bodies; these waste water with nutrients content especially from factories helps the weeds to grow in large numbers thereby damaging the natural ecosystem in water bodies. And also, the tourists have no restriction in using any plastic material during their voyages through these water bodies. Thus, when the waste management project was given to me at Atree; it was indeed a privilege.
Muhamma village which is on the banks of Vembanad lake was under pressure- with large scale backwater tourism, heavy resource extraction, reclamation of agricultural land (that has reduced the size of the lake) and various anthropogenic activities. And already 2 women from each of the 16 wards were selected and formed under the Haritha Karma Sena (Green Army) mandates to deal with the waste management system in Muhamma. Though there exists an army, a properly functioning panchayat and the process of monthly waste collection, there was something missing. On one side it was the mindset of this army and on the other hand it’s the attitude of the residents towards them. Most of them raised the question like ‘why we need to collect these wastes and what's the benefit as we used to tie them in sacks and transport for dumping in faraway landfills. This happens because they don’t know the value of waste and for them it’s something of no use and that creates an unhealthy shabby environment. And I am sure that even most of us don’t consider and deeply understand the words- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle with the vital reason behind its creation. I shared my personal experience with these women to imbibe my words directly into their mind in the right sense.
During my childhood days I used to collect chocolate wrappers and plastic covers from roadside and made beautiful crafts out of it including small flowers, artificial plants and other decoration items. Once It was encouraged by my teachers and connected it with the concept of reusing and recreating new innovations from our old so-called wastage items during a new year eve. That was the first insight for me and I received a nickname “aakri” (one who collects waste and scraps in the local area). After explaining my childhood experiences, I had conversations with local people and cleared their doubts. Finally, they understood the concept and importance of ‘waste management’ as it not only the collection of waste but it includes several processes like segregation, transportation, and the treatment of waste into the recycling and demolition sections. Soon we conducted sessions among local residents on ‘segregation and processing of waste’ with expertise from a local waste management unit. They explained how to collect, segregate and process waste and convert them into useful products. Segregation and processing of plastic wastes which includes milk packets, carry bags, disposable water bottles etc was a cumbersome task. People are also now aware of the damages a plastic product can do to the ecosystem. Since it takes 100’s of years to decompose a single plastic product completely in soil, we could imagine how much damage it can bring to our environment by generating tons of plastic wastes on a daily basis. Women members of ‘Haritha Karma Sena’ also acquired skills like how to make eco-friendly cloth bags from old clothes and sarees, with the help of social innovation lab members. With efficient support from members and proper guidance from professionals, we could recycle a large amount of plastic waste in a short time which is collected from households and shops. Also, it has paved the way for women empowerment by providing a regular income, confidence and dignity to its members. But still the processes involved in waste management and treatment is not that much familiar to the public thereby certain challenges exist in maintaining a place and proper area for this management in most of the places and localities. This is because people usually call up for strikes and oppositions for constructing waste management plants or any sort of waste treatments near to their local residency. And this can only be changed with proper guidance and awareness for the public. In the case of the green army of the government who takes care of the waste management system in Muhamma panchayat involved in the process of waste collection, segregation, transportation, recycling and processing it. Thereby emerged as a system that involved in reducing the waste accumulation, reusing, recycling and recreating new unique products in spite of certain geographical and behavioural challenges. Thus when we have identified the value of waste it starts providing value for our efforts and management.