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Cities at crossroads: Can’t sweep it under the carpet


The challenge of garbage is set to grow. Solid waste management plans need to be implemented alongside maintenance of drainage and sewerage networks.

In my last column, I wrote about how garbage is choking our cities and playing havoc with our health. What can we do to address this challenge? We refer to garbage generated in our cities as “municipal solid waste” and we talk of its “management” — collection, segregation, recycling, processing to recover value and scientific disposal. Put that way, it seems to have little to do with us personally. When we take a technocratic approach, we psychologically distance ourselves from the menace. And yet garbage is a personal threat to all of us and the challenge will only become greater in future as more people move to the cities as urbanisation and rising incomes bring changing lifestyles which usually means more waste.

When I talked to the authorities in Tokyo, San Francisco and Singapore during my visits to these cities, to find out what they are doing to address their garbage menace, I found that reduction of waste and recycling of waste received as much emphasis in their scheme of things as resource recovery from waste and its scientific disposal. They carried out intense campaigns to win people’s support in reducing the waste generated and also in segregating waste at its source of generation into categories such as wet (biodegradable) waste, dry waste, plastic, paper, glass, etc., to facilitate recycling. Waste of different types is collected, recycled/processed by the municipal governments using a range of technological options for resource recovery. Finally, what remains is scientifically disposed of in landfills. Engagement of the community in segregation of waste at the source along with well-functioning drainage and sewerage networks facilitate a smooth process of solid waste management in these cities

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