Monday, 31 May 2010

A plastic graveyard

I was swooping through a mud road casually on an ancient scooter to the foundation for revitalisation of local health and traditions office somewhere close to Yelahanka New Town in Bangalore. For once, I was enjoying large patches of Eucalyptus trees, some native Sizygium, Mango trees, since this was after passing through the thick smoggy air on Airport road. A shikra was meticulously searching for a meal as I zipped through the road. Till then, I was enjoying the smells of damp mud, Euca trees and suchlike when I caught a pungent whiff. A tractor in front of me was carrying trash, some of it decomposed, some smelling fresh, most of it plastic wrappers of various sizes. Looking at it one could imagine where all this came from; someone from a house must have dumped twenty plastic wrappers yesterday; their stuff was neatly packed in these wrappers after shopping in a mall just a day ago, someone must have casually dumped all their extra food from an extravagant meal into the bin, someone else may have thrown their old keyboard, having no use for it now, someone else must have dumped a silver wrapper they packed their food in to keep it hot, some fresh Tropicana juice tetra packs and dozens of such items. A question popped into my head, 'where does this all go?' I had seen a landfill in Vidyaranyapura many years ago. This tractor I decided to follow.

Trying to avoid the whiff but not lose track of the vehicle, I followed it to about 3 km away. After few turns, I saw what I can call a 'trashscape'. At first, I didn't realise what it was, but lo a couple hillocks of white plastic trash appeared in front of me. There were at least a hundred Pariah kites (the word 'Pariah' here seems fitting) and crows grabbing at the contents of this trash heap. About twenty almost-about-to-die frail looking dogs made this place their home. Nearby I saw what looked like a treatment plant. So I casually struck a conversation with one of the folks at this 'plastic valley' and he told me. Large holes are dug in the ground with a JCB crane, and the plastic is filled into the holes. Some of the trash which may be organic is treated. The person I spoke to didn't know the exact details of what happens to this stuff. But another detail he told me left me awestruck. About 150 tractors like the one I had seen dump their contents into this place EVERYday! And this has been happening for more than five years!

Unable to digest the whole situation, I left the place, more confused and bewildered than earlier when I was seeing the shikra and the trees. Back in the north-east, I live in a village much less civilised, where people are not believed to be as intelligent as us city-dwelling modern people. They have been living in the same village for at least five hundred years. So where is their heap of trash? There is hardly any use of plastic and the little that seeps into the village is used up for starting the fire in the morning. I don't think its the best way to dispose plastic, but hey, they aren't at least burying it in the ground! In the nearest town Yingkiong, plastic is banned, so when you buy something you get it in a brown paper bag. In Itanagar town in Arunachal, there is a fine of 500 rupees for using a plastic bag. So why can't this be done in big cities where people are more educated and supposedly more civilised!

Back at home, every morning, a small three-wheeler comes home with a jarring honking sound to appeal to people to bring out their trash and deposit. Now, I know where all this goes so I feel guilty to hand over the plastic bag filled with trash to him. I am still looking for solutions, separate the stuff, use some for compost, collect the rest, items such as plastic, batteries and other non degradable items. But what to do with these. I still seek the solution and hope that someday my home can produce as little non degradable waste as possible.

PS the dump by the way can be seen from a satellite image, here it is, the white hill! For a clearer image, search for 'frlht' on wikimapia and then go west a km.