We all have come across words or items like wastage, garbage, sewage, electronic waste, solid waste, biomedical waste, chemical waste, industrial waste, time waste, etc. One of the pressing needs of the modern era is ‘how to manage waste’. We all contribute to some trash, but it is doubtful whether we contribute to recycling waste materials. One of the good things the colonial regimes have left is the concept of ‘usefulness’ poised against ‘waste’. The colonialists pointed out ‘waste’ both in the physical and social senses (Gidwani, 1992). They further took it as a God-given obligation to turn ‘waste’ into ‘value’. The motive behind this endeavour is debatable, of course.
What is waste
The oxford dictionary defines the noun ‘waste’ as ‘not good use’. Waste (of something) is the act of using something in a careless or unnecessary way, causing it to be lost or destroyed. The concept of ‘waste’ is a catalogue of negatives. The Websters Third New International Dictionary offers the following definitions of the noun ‘waste’: wild, uninhabited, desolate, empty, cheerless, monotonous, useless, uncultivated, unproductive, and land laid barren by human agency. The verb ‘waste’ fares no better. ‘To waste’ is to ravage, devastate, diminish, use carelessly, allow to be used inefficiently, squander, dissipate, fritter or to let laps. Unproductive use of anything could be termed as ‘waste’.
Possessing more than needed
As long as ‘having more’ is considered a sign of affluence, we are likely to suffer the malady of ‘wastage’. The additional devilish idea is ‘trying to have more through any means and declare it a gift of God’ (which is some distorted religious interpretation). This is a serious instance of using religion wrongfully. Having just what is needed is enough for life. For example, the lungs can hold just enough oxygen for a few seconds; it does not hold all the needed oxygen for life. The stomach adjusts to a modicum of food possible for digestion. Having just the needed will further let more people have the necessities of life. “The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Much of our waste is generated from greed and the tendency to stockpile objects.
Waste to value
For the colonial rule, ‘waste’ is ‘revenue waste’. There is something to pick from the colonial concept that land needs to be used productively – either as a revenue-generating entity or as a biodiversity site. The utilitarian view of nature that dominated the west in the eighteenth century saw a unique role for humans as ‘improvers’. Through ‘intelligent leadership’, humans could transform nature and shape ‘a higher form of existence’ (Gidwani, 1992). This meant removing ‘waste’ in its broad sense. Useless species, idle lands, and sluggish behaviour were all considered forms of ‘waste’ that must be eliminated. To eliminate ‘waste’, one needs the spirit of industry and economy, good government, knowledge of the natural order of things, and the ability to make history. During the colonial times, these were all qualities that the English saw themselves possessing while they saw the inhabitants of India lacking (Gidwani, 1992). Perhaps, we still lack till today.
Pythagoras said, “No one is free who has not obtained the empire of himself. No man is free who cannot command himself”. “How to manage waste” can be negotiated with cutting down waste itself – less use of non-renewable items (like single-use plastic items). We could walk or use a bicycle for short distance travels. Recycling old clothes into designs of table cloths, bags, dusters, doormats, etc., can be each one’s contribution and self-regulation routine. Gifting tree saplings to guests instead of flower bouquets is another way to minimize waste and promote environment-friendly behaviours. We should not depend on others for the things we can do ourselves.
How we live, consume, and waste will affect us and the future. The small proactive steps we take today will pay off in the future. Our planet is running out of resources and getting suffocated with toxic things. We need to minimize waste and increase environment-friendly lifestyle. Children need to see and learn how the environment works in practical mode – this is called ‘Gaia education’ or ‘Sustainable Education’. Halmae writes, “the basic principle of Gaia education is understanding that planet Earth is a living being and humans are just a part of its ecosystem. Sadly, most of us act today as if we are supreme. But the fact is that we’re just a tiny piece of this planet. We should be living hand-in-hand with nature and move towards sustainable living each day and with each decision we make. It can be as simple as recycling in your own household or switching off electricity when leaving the room.”
We need ‘environmental thinking’, not just ‘environmental knowledge’ for grades. Our thinking will influence our behaviour and then make us pro-environment who are environmentally responsible for our acts. Children need to be taken out from classrooms and be engaged to see gardens, waste heaps, sewage tunnels for firsthand experience. Every single action we make impacts the environment. Let us minimize waste and be a blessing, not environmental hazards.
The author is a PhD research scholar, Department of Sociology and Social Work, CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore, Karnataka, India. Email: email@example.com