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60,000 metric tonnes of e-waste generated in Gurgaon annually, but just 10% gets recycled: Ruchika Sethi Takkar

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By Nishtha 

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.

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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.

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 NewsGram

  • Parimal Bardhan

    Its a true status of Gurgaon as mentioned by Ruchika, and of other cities in India.Who cares about managing waste in our cities?But for the ragpickers,the landscape of our cities and around the cities would be worse.Does it really matter to anyone? We are so good at engaging people with pompous policy announcements that the system continues to remain in perennial sloth.Solutions to this menace are quite obvious and people and administration would often talk about them very passionately but putting them into action remains a mirage.Unfortunately, we are caught in a vicious cycle of (policy) announcements, (resource) allocation and no action.This 3As syndrom will swamp us with garbage and swachh bharat will remain a mythical concept.One however does hope that Ruchikas and such other non-pretentious and concerned persons in the society will keep our optimism high.

  • Aakash Mandyal

    These are the only people who are taking initiative .. Rest is bragging.

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  • Parimal Bardhan

    Its a true status of Gurgaon as mentioned by Ruchika, and of other cities in India.Who cares about managing waste in our cities?But for the ragpickers,the landscape of our cities and around the cities would be worse.Does it really matter to anyone? We are so good at engaging people with pompous policy announcements that the system continues to remain in perennial sloth.Solutions to this menace are quite obvious and people and administration would often talk about them very passionately but putting them into action remains a mirage.Unfortunately, we are caught in a vicious cycle of (policy) announcements, (resource) allocation and no action.This 3As syndrom will swamp us with garbage and swachh bharat will remain a mythical concept.One however does hope that Ruchikas and such other non-pretentious and concerned persons in the society will keep our optimism high.

  • Aakash Mandyal

    These are the only people who are taking initiative .. Rest is bragging.

Next Story

Non-Pest Insects Are Declining: Scientists

Governments are trying to improve the situation.

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A ladybug rests on the petals of a flower in the Capitol Hill garden in Washington. VOA

A staple of summer — swarms of bugs — seems to be a thing of the past. And that’s got scientists worried.

Pesky mosquitoes, disease-carrying ticks, crop-munching aphids and cockroaches are doing just fine. But the more beneficial flying insects of summer — native bees, moths, butterflies, ladybugs, lovebugs, mayflies and fireflies — appear to be less abundant.

Scientists think something is amiss, but they can’t be certain: In the past, they didn’t systematically count the population of flying insects, so they can’t make a proper comparison to today. Nevertheless, they’re pretty sure across the globe there are fewer insects that are crucial to as much as 80 percent of what we eat.

Yes, some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life.

“You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?” said University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy. If they disappeared, “the world would start to rot.”

He noted Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson once called bugs: “The little things that run the world.”

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A bug stands on the petals of a flower in a house garden in Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). A study estimates a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006. VOA

The 89-year-old Wilson recalled that he once frolicked in a “Washington alive with insects, especially butterflies.” Now, “the flying insects are virtually gone.”

It hit home last year when he drove from suburban Boston to Vermont and decided to count how many bugs hit his windshield. The result: A single moth.

Windshield test

The un-scientific experiment is called the windshield test. Wilson recommends everyday people do it themselves to see. Baby Boomers will probably notice the difference, Tallamy said.

Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Researchers are quick to point out that such exercises aren’t good scientific experiments, since they don’t include control groups or make comparisons with past results. (Today’s cars also are more aerodynamic, so bugs are more likely to slip past them and live to buzz about it.)

Still, there are signs of decline. Research has shown dwindling individual species in specific places, including lightning bugs, moths and bumblebees. One study estimated a 14 percent decline in ladybugs in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006. University of Florida urban entomologist Philip Koehler said he’s seen a recent decrease in lovebugs — insects that fly connected and coated Florida’s windshields in the 1970s and 1980s. This year, he said, “was kind of disappointing, I thought.”

Insects
A multicolored Coccinellidae septempunctata, commonly known as seven spotted ladybug or ladybird walks on a leaf in a house garden in Virginia. VOA

University of Nevada, Reno, researcher Lee Dyer and his colleagues have been looking at insects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica since 1991. There’s a big insect trap sheet under black light that decades ago would be covered with bugs. Now, “there’s no insects on that sheet,” he said.

But there’s not much research looking at all flying insects in big areas.

The evidence

Last year, a study that found an 82 percent mid-summer decline in the number and weight of bugs captured in traps in 63 nature preserves in Germany compared with 27 years earlier. It was one of the few, if only, broad studies. Scientists say similar comparisons can’t be done elsewhere because similar bug counts weren’t done decades ago.

“We don’t know how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much we have,” said University of Hawaii entomologist Helen Spafford.

The lack of older data makes it “unclear to what degree we’re experiencing an arthropocalypse,” said University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. Individual studies aren’t convincing in themselves, “but the sheer accumulated weight of evidence seems to be shifting” to show a problem, she said.

insects
Several scientists have conducted their own tests with windshields, car grilles and headlights, and most notice few squashed bugs. Flcikr

After the German study, countries started asking if they have similar problems, said ecologist Toke Thomas Hoye of Aarhus University in Denmark. He studied flies in a few spots in remote Greenland and noticed an 80 percent drop in numbers since 1996.

“It’s clearly not a German thing,” said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, who has chronicled declines in moth populations in the northeastern United States. “We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is.”

The suspects

Most scientists say lots of factors, not just one, caused the apparent decline in flying insects.

Suspects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, single-crop agriculture, invasive species, light pollution, highway traffic and climate change.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts, and that’s really bad news,” Wagner said.

To Tallamy, two causes stand out: Humans’ war on weeds and vast farmland planted with the same few crops.

Insects
Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Pixabay

Weeds and native plants are what bugs eat and where they live, Tallamy said. Milkweeds, crucial to the beautiful monarch butterfly, are dwindling fast. Manicured lawns in the United States are so prevalent that, added together, they are as big as New England, he said.

Those landscapes are “essentially dead zones,” he said.

Light pollution is another big problem for species such as moths and fireflies, bug experts said. Insects are attracted to brightness, where they become easy prey and expend energy they should be using to get food, Tallamy said.

Jesse Barber of Boise State is in the middle of a study of fireflies and other insects at Grand Teton National Park. He said he notices a distinct connection between light pollution and dwindling populations.

“We’re hitting insects during the day, we’re hitting them at night,” Tallamy said. “We’re hitting them just about everywhere.”

Lawns, light pollution and bug-massacring highway traffic are associated where people congregate. But Danish scientist Hoye found a noticeable drop in muscid flies in Greenland 300 miles (500 kilometers) from civilization. His studies linked declines to warmer temperatures.

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Some insects are pests. But they also pollinate plants, are a key link in the food chain and help decompose life. VOA

Other scientists say human-caused climate change may play a role, albeit small.

Restoring habitat

Governments are trying to improve the situation. Maryland is in a three-year experiment to see if planting bee-friendly native wildflowers helps.

University of Maryland entomology researcher Lisa Kuder says the usual close-crop “turf is basically like a desert” that doesn’t attract flying insects. She found an improvement — 70 different species and records for bees — in the areas where flowers are allowed to grow wild and natural alongside roads.

The trouble is that it is so close to roadways that Tallamy fears that the plants become “ecological traps where you’re drawing insects in and they’re all squashed by cars.”

Still, Tallamy remains hopeful. In 2000, he moved into this rural area between Philadelphia and Baltimore and made his 10-acre patch all native plants, creating a playground for bugs. Now he has 861 species of moths and 54 species of breeding birds that feed on insects.

Also Read: Kun- Faya & Fun Art Exhibition at India Habitat Centre in Delhi

Wagner, of the University of Connecticut, spends his summers teaching middle schoolers in a camp to look for insects, like he did decades ago. They have a hard time finding the cocoons he used to see regularly.

“The kids I’m teaching right now are going to think that scarce insects are the rule,” Wagner said. “They’re not realizing that there could be an ecological disaster on the horizon.” (VOA)