Friday, May 22, 2015

Mo' trash, mo' problems

This afternoon our class visited the Bingipura landfill to see in action where the city's waste ends up. The city of Bangalore has a population of 8.5 million and generates 5,000 metric tons of waste per day. Bangalore was once one of India's cleanest cities, but today it is now one of India's dirtiest.
This afternoon our class visited the Bingipura landfill to see in action where the city's waste ends up.

The city of Bangalore has a population of 8.5 million and generates 5,000 metric tons of waste per day. Bangalore was once one of India's cleanest cities, but today it is now one of India's dirtiest. You can see garbage lining the streets everywhere in the city.

Whatever is collected in the morning by the garbage trucks ends up in the Bingipura landfill. The Bingipura landfill is just outside the Bangalore city limits and takes most of south Bangalore's waste.

When we arrived at the landfill, there was a never-ending sight of mountains of trash. I was hit with the overpowering smell of garbage that had been rotting under the hot Bangalorian sun. Flies, rats, and vultures were the prime residents of the landfill.

I could see the silhouettes of waste pickers scavenging for waste on the garbage hills and being shooed away by the guards and garbage collectors. Waste pickers are people who salvage reusable or recyclable waste to sell for money. They are very useful because they help sort the garbage, and they are often the only form of waste management in many cities.

The waste pickers and garbage collectors get paid around Rs. 250-300 (4 USD) a day in Bangalore. However, since waste picking is illegal, waste pickers often have to bribe the municipal guards in order to work in the landfills.

The garbage collectors told us that they had not been paid in months by the local government. The landfill contractors are supposed to take the responsibly of paying them when the local government cannot, but unfortunately that does not happen.

One of the garbage collectors told us that he had to resort to taking out loans to pay his kids' school fees. The garbage collectors don't have the option of quitting their jobs because they can be easily replaced, and they do not want to take the risk of being unemployed.

We wanted to respect the garbage collectors' request to not take pictures, so we were limited to taking pictures near this polluted lake.

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The local government and contractors do not provide garbage collectors with the proper equipment such as uniforms, proper boots, gloves, and masks. We saw many of the garbage collectors not wearing shoes in the landfill. We gave away any extra masks we had to them. Not wearing the proper equipment can be very hazardous to human health, and many of the waste pickers and garbage collectors often get cuts and scrapes from contact with sharp objects.

I thought it was interesting how one of the garbage collectors commented about how policymakers are making the decisions for the city and garbage collection in comfortable, air-conditioned offices, and that they are out of touch with the realities of what is going on the ground.

I am trying to shift away from a Western mindset, and I have learned that garbage and sanitation issues in India are very complex and have many layers. What may work in the U.S. may not work in India because there are different social, political, and economic factors that are at play.

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