How can you help in the making of a clean, waste-free Chennai?

You can play a big role in making Chennai just like one of those clean, beautiful global cities you visit or watch on TV. It doesn't take much; just put the trash in the right place, says a long-time crusader.

I am a mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend, animal-lover, community advocate, and victim of having a sweet tooth. I clearly do not mention these roles in any particular order of priority since “victim of a sweet tooth” is at the end.

All my roles are incredibly important to me because each one feeds a part of my being. But, reflecting on it, I realized that seven of them can be described as being a part of the broadest one in there: community advocate. Being a mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend, dog-lover, and victim of having a sweet tooth all lead into being a community advocate.

Are you wondering how that’s possible?

Stop for a minute and think about the word “community”. It is defined as “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.” So that makes my family a community, my friends a community, and everyone who I don’t know but lives in my neighborhood, city, and country, and — well, essentially any part of this earth — a part of my community.

Really, my primary role is being a community advocate, and, luckily for me, that is also where my passion lies. I believe in living life to the fullest, and that means living in a healthy, safe and nurturing world. I also believe that we cannot achieve that ideal unless each person in the community plays a role in actively working towards it. It is this knowledge combined with my passion that has driven me to commit my time and energy to working on civic responsibility and waste awareness. In turn, it is this job as a community advocate that has led me to you today.

Like Project DirtCapital Clean UpBin It SingaporeKeep America BeautifulClean Chennai too joined the ranks of these simple yet powerful movements that lead cleanliness and anti-litter campaigns in places such as London, Singapore, and the United States. When we travel to these places it rarely occurs to us that even wonderfully clean cities probably struggle with waste management issues – like India experiences.

Why is waste-management such a struggle globally?

And how is it that some places maintain relatively clean environments? The answer is as simple as it is complicated: collaborative efforts between the government and citizens. Let’s face it — Singapore would not be clean if its citizens refused to actually use the trash bins and littered the streets with waste instead.

Now, let your imagination run for 30 seconds

Imagine a street with no waste – no plastic bottles, soiled paper teacups, parts of a shoe, or a used tissue. Imagine a street you can walk on confidently instead of playing hopscotch to avoid a pile of food wrappers, dog poop and, possibly, two-week old wasted food. Imagine a street that is clean. Imagine: a clean Chennai.

We, you and I, have the power to make this happen. All it takes is placing trash where it belongs: inside the right trash bin. How important is it to throw that chocolate wrapper or cigarette butt out the car window? Can you hold on to it in your pocket or purse until you find a trash bin?

We are not the last generation

We share this earth with many, so, putting the larger good of “we” before “I”, examining that sense of entitlement and ramping up the sense of responsibility, is the only path to harmony with our environment. We strive to set good examples for our peers and children in so many ways – be kind, be generous, be respectful. It’s time for us to be respectful of our environment, and set that as a standard in society.

In You & Me terms, what does this mean?

Broken up into bite-size pieces, it really is simply about looking at what “I” can do, because that’s where control begins and ends. So, just for today, let’s get started in your work environment. Can you take a look around you and check to understand the amount and different kinds of waste you generate in your office? Typically, it would fall under the categories of:

Organic — food-waste

Recyclable — paper plastic glass, aluminium cans, etc.

Sanitary — toilet tissue, sanitary napkins, medicine wrappers, etc.

Residual waste — food soiled plates, styrofoam, etc.

E-waste — CDs, wires, cartridges, etc.

Hazardous — batteries, printer ink

The next step would be to set up the infrastructure required for the correct disposal of each of these kinds of wastes. You could use colour-coded metal mesh bins to help with all categories except organic waste, which requires a closed bin with a lid. Why mesh bins, you might ask? That’s because it allows you to see what’s inside and thereby helps to monitor that waste categories are not mixed up.

That’s where the key really lies

When it’s all hauled away to the landfill, it is essentially crushed and compacted with no air or sunlight, and that means decomposition slows down enormously. This then means that a lot of very unhealthy gases, especially carbon dioxide and methane, are released into the air along with equally unhealthy leachate (which is a liquid that has passed through a landfill and has suspended matter in it) which leaks into the soil. No prizes for guessing whom all this affects.

So let’s begin with the simple step of being mindful of the waste we generate and how we manage it.

[This post was first published in Insight – The Official Influx Blog and has been republished with permission. The original post can be read here.]

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