Gurgaon: Citizen activist, Ruchika Sethi Takkar regularly collaborates with citizen groups and civic administration to develop and implement sustainable solutions.
In a conversation with NewsGram, Sethi talks about e-waste management, her initiative – ‘Why Waste Your Waste’ and the impact of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’. Excerpts from the interview:
Nishtha: As a citizen activist, you are passionate about saving the environment among other important issues. What made you take up this cause?
Ruchika Sethi Takkar: It is the civic and civil apathy which pushed me out of my comfort zone. This was sometime around March 2013. I felt that neither the civil society, nor the civic administration are doing their part for our planet. There was a big gap between the policies created by the government and its implementation on ground. There was a total lack of cooperation from the civic authorities when it came to sanitation work. Seeing this condition, I realized it was time for me to take charge and work towards the betterment of the environment. It was time for me to take responsibility for my surroundings.
N: You have been doing a lot of work for e-waste management. Could you tell me about your initiative and whether enough is being done to promote e-waste management?
RS: The biggest challenge in today’s time is that most of the electronic gadgets have a short life of three to six months before a new model hits the market. What happens to the older junk? If in a working condition, the gadget is passed around and it turns into a game of passing the parcel. Ultimately, it becomes junk, and lands up in the landfill sites.
I had attended a workshop on waste management and heard an executive from GIZ (an international organization) speak about the need for e-waste safe disposal. I did my research on this topic and subsequently formed a group of like-minded individuals to raise awareness about e-waste and its segregation.
E-waste contains toxic and hazardous materials including mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and chemical flame retardants, which have the potential to leach into our soil and water.
It should not come as a surprise that most of the Neuro-Developmental diseases are on the rise, and somewhere, the lead and mercury are entering the food we eat and the air we breathe.
Government of India has issued policies for safe handling of e-waste. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s e-waste handling and management rules (2011) call for correct disposal of the e-waste. There is hardly any awareness in government departments, and absolutely no enforcement .
N: Bandhwari plant, which is about 15 kms away from the Gurgaon-Faridabad Road, and was supposed to serve as a treatment plant for recycling around 900 Metric Solid Waste (MSW) every day, is still shut. As the garbage continues to pile on, what is the current situation at the plant?
RS : Currently, no processing of waste is taking place at the plant. More than 6.5 million tonnes of untreated MSW has piled up on this eco fragile zone. It is impacting our ground water, as well as releasing noxious green house gases such as methane into the atmosphere.
Gurgaon is the growth engine for Haryana and is also one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities. This urbanization brings challenges and consequences – the large quantities of municipal waste generation being one of them. The problem is further compounded with multiple civic agencies trying to handle civic sanitation functions. It is the responsibility of the city to implement a decentralized MSW plan to solve the impending crisis.
N: You have started an initiative called, ‘Why Waste Your Waste’ and have tied up with the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG). What is the initiative all about?
RS: The ‘Why Waste Your Waste’ (WWYW) citizens campaign is creating awareness among the civil society and civic administration about the surmounting problems. WWYW campaign is extending its full support to the MCG to design and implement decentralized pilot projects in HUDA sector 31 and Ashok Vihar phase -2 (areas in Gurgaon). The MCG commissioner, Vikas Gupta has initiated a scientific survey for the first time in Gurgaon, to see the quantity and classification of waste generation at the source.
The objective of waste mapping, is to help MCG monitor the quantities of waste being generated and handled by other civic agencies and their contractors and to make them fully accountable for its scientific management and disposal; and also, to prevent the rampant open dumping as well as to look at the decentralized model of waste management.
The message from municipality should be very clear. Its time all stakeholders of the city start to look at their role in waste management. The waste mapping only validates the large quantum of waste generation in an urban household, and the need to scientifically process the Organic waste in complexes inhibiting the production of greenhouse gases like Methane from untreated organic matter. WWYW is also focused on waste diversion and reduction.
N: Do you think ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ launched by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has actually managed to make any difference?
RS : For the first time in our country, priority is being given to sanitation and our living surroundings. In fact, the very first Municipal Solid Waste guidelines, were only drawn up by MoEF in 2000; a good 53 years after independence! Yet, they have not been implemented by all the states. The civic needs were in the lower rungs of priorities of every government, so far. Yes, the cleanliness drive has inspired citizens, but, there is a huge gap between the prioritization and implementation of this campaign.
I sincerely hope it does not remain a mere rhetoric. The seriousness of the administration can only be gauged if the civic administration too starts rolling up its sleeve, and identifying the main inhibitors for clean surroundings, and basically begins to bring about a paradigm shift in its approach and methodology to execute the civic and sanitation needs of a city.
N: What is the message you would like to send across to people regarding e-waste management?
RS: With changing pace of technology, the shelf life of electronic items has become limited. Most of the e-waste is managed by the informal sector which sometimes burns the e-waste to retain precious metals such as Aluminium and Copper, among others. As I said earlier, e-waste also contains toxic and hazardous materials including mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, chromium, and chemical flame retardants, which have the potential to leach into our soil and water. This is why it is important that e-waste is safely disposed through government certified recyclers and dismantlers.
For example, more than 60,000 metric tonnes of e-waste is generated in Gurgaon annually, but just 10% of this gets recycled in a safe manner.
So, in order to strike a balance between technological advancement and depleting natural resources, each consumer needs to indulge in safe disposal method . The authorized dismantlers will ensure that the environment is not harmed during the recycling process.
Also, the consumers should find a way to increase the longevity of their electronic items.