Life in Waste
Rinita Banerjee   |   6/5/2009 2:17:11 PM

The sun's rays peep through the curtains in a cosy room, surrounded by the choicest of furniture, except the few irregularities that have become habitual owing to constant and consistent living.

And so morning begins, with a friendly hot cup of tea, toasted bread, boiled eggs, or even tasty, sumptuous paranthas smelling of ghee, and of course of mother's hands. Then starts a day, a busy day, a day of commitments through competition, of complexities and contradictions- a day that at the end is a fulfilling day. A successful day- that brings sleep, restful, yet sometimes difficult.

All that's beautiful, bereft of any bruises or blemishes. Far from the stench and smoke that stretches the lives of those 'few others' whom we choose to ignore, whom we choose to push behind, look ahead of, and make invisible.

Riding in our sleek and suave cars, when we rush through the city streets, and look high up to the changing moods of the sky, or the towering malls, splashing all over, busy in our own world of comparisons, awaiting an increase in the salary, a precipitation of appreciation, of commitments to fulfill, of appointments to keep, wondering about the future, and sometimes, even of love- we do not get to see the people busy amidst the dirt and dust of garbage dumps.

Behind closed windows, with the cool air conditioner, fighting the heat and hassles, and at times calming soared tempers, we do not get even a faint idea of what they do. It is for granted- something that is expected from them. But alas, it is they who carry day in and day out, the misery of those expectations. It is their responsibility, that answers their hunger, and shelters their weariness. For truly they are weary.  

It is the wafting stench of the open garbage dumps, which lie, as if in consolation, in quiet corners on roads. Little children, or the designated rag pickers stand stooped across each of them, picking the ignored treasures left alone among others by us; with their bare hands, without covering their noses, they trudge on with a ragged bag on their shoulders, picking, sorting and with efficient ease; an action that gives us a hope for a greener tomorrow, and to them it gifts a day's meal, peaceful sleep.

However, this responsibility actually helps the environment, by clearing and cleaning all that the busy, important city leaves over. Enduring through pieces of metal and glass, tonnes of plastic bags, sharp-edged tins, wet cardboards, shreds of cloth and so much more of this grotesque heap of waste, the rag pickers struggle through the rubble with amazing dexterity, everyday. Their job knows no bonuses, no promotions, no perks and not even appreciation, as they rummage through the waste.

According to a report, selling the above items to mobile kabaris known as thiawalas, a waste picker makes between Rs 75 and Rs 150 per day . In return, the big kabaris buy these items from small kabaris and sell them to the recycler. It is ironical, how in return for such frugal amounts of money, they are facilitating recycling, in a way.

Moreover, both biodegradable and non-biodegradable matter should be segregated before being sent off to the dumps, according to the Plastic Bags and Non-Biodegradable Garbage Control Act 2001. But unfortunately, this is hardly ever done.

And this is where every waste picker plays a crucial mediating role. After the MCD dumps the apparently insurmountable rubbish, the ragpicker picks up between 50-60 kg of waste everyday. Each helps recycle between 1,500-1,800 kg of waste every month.

For the rag pickers, life is spent amidst germs and susceptibility to diseases, lung infections, burnt waste, and also a life that is trapped in the fumes of ever reducing chances of living a clean, protected life.

Those who walk through the piles that we keep ourselves far from, are the ones whose efforts give us a protected environment; they know no seasons, and perhaps not even the reason, but they relentlessly help the environment to recover from the mistakes that we unknowingly, and ignorantly commit.

At the end of each day, when we go back to our soft beds in the comfort of our homes, on the other side of the town, lies another bed on footpaths, in a place called home. Sleep comes without an effort, overshadowing the unspoken dreams of those 'few others' who await another morning much the same as in years before.

(Based on research inputs)

What is biodegradation ?

Biodegradation is the process by which organic substances are broken down by the enzymes produced by living organisms. Biodegradable matter is generally organic material such as plant and animal matter and other substances originating from living organisms, or artificial materials that are similar enough to plant and animal matter to be put to use by microorganisms.

Some microorganisms have the astonishing, naturally occurring, microbial catabolic diversity to degrade, transform or accumulate a huge range of compounds including hydrocarbons (e.g. oil), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pharmaceutical substances, radionuclides and metals.

Major methodological breakthroughs in microbial biodegradation have enabled detailed genomic, metagenomic, proteomic, bioinformatic and other high-throughput analyses of environmentally relevant microorganisms providing unprecedented insights into key biodegradative pathways and the ability of microorganisms to adapt to changing environmental conditions.


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