What happens to waste once it leaves us?

The relieving moment when we get rid of our waste; when we’re carrying a wrapper for a few minutes and finally find a dustbin. The feeling that I did the correct thing, that I waited for the dustbin to pop up on my route and only then did I throw it away. But what after that?

What happens to it? Where does it go? Who deals with it? How is it treated? And most of all Why is it important for us to know that?

One of the parts of this chain is the place where waste gets collected and then all the waste pickers segregate it into different categories like paper/cardboard, plastic, and non-recyclable waste. When the recyclable items are mixed with organic and non-recyclable, it becomes difficult to segregate it, as it’s hard to distinguish and stinks a lot. Only when I visited the Segregation Center of Waste Warriors, I realized the magnitude of the problem that we’re so commonly ignorant about.

Last month, I also got an opportunity to take a few interviews as a part of ‘Thank You Safai Sathi campaign’, under PRTHVI programme of UNDP. It was overwhelming to hear the story of Banarasi Devi, who is a waste picker, working on the streets of Dehradun, and meet activists like Pushpa Agarwal and Anjali Srivastava; who not only do the segregation, but also keep a compost and inspire many others to do the same.

Thank you Safai Saathi.jpg

Under the same campaign, a Painting competition was organized at Jaswant Modern School in Dehradun, which was focused on expressing our gratitude for the Safai Sathis, for a cleaner tomorrow. Safai Sathi is anyone who works towards making the environment cleaner. They are our waste pickers, house help, school cleaning staff, street sweepers, kabadi-walas, scrap dealers and active citizens who are working across the country to solve the same problem.

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The event began with all energy and enthusiasm when the bright guides entered the Jaswant Modern School, with little crazy minds proudly representing their school formally wearing tidy ironed uniforms. Walking in a queue, they proceeded to the event ground where they huddled in their respective school groups all set for the painting competition to begin.

Two of our many Safai Sathis, Ms. Pushpa Agarwal who segregates all her waste at home, and Ms. Seema who is a Green Worker with Waste Warriors, shared their experiences and explained to the audience the hazards of mixed waste and the importance of segregation. Seema Di works at the segregation center. She advised everyone to segregate at the source itself, and shared the difficulties that she faces, on a daily basis, when dry and wet things are mixed.

Scratching their heads, with curiosity and thoughtfulness; all the kids dived into their drawing sheets with ideas ranging from realistic to abstract. It was incredible how they conceptualized “Safai Sathis” from perceivable things such as cleaning and sweeping, to ideas as vague as they could imagine and visualize.

Category A, 1st - Anurag Ramola - K V ONGC

Anurag Ramola from Class 8 (KV ONGC), drew this masterpiece where he beautifully depicted so many layers on a small piece of paper. With all his conscious efforts, he illustrated the negative impact that we, as humans, are having on our Mother Earth and the actions which will definitely come back to bite us.

There was a special corner for “Best Out of Waste”, a category where every school displayed a piece of up-cycled work which they created out of recyclable and non-recyclable materials. In this category, two schools were awarded: Bajaj Institute Of Learning For Deaf Children, and The Doon Girls’ School.

I would like to specially mention Ms. Taru Singal who dedicated her time to translate every word and speeches into sign language for her institute’s students. It was mesmerizing to look at her translating and expressing complicated terms like recycling, urbanization, segregation and many others, creatively and calmly. I could read the faces of those students, and strongly felt that they were more absorbent then any of us present there. 

Our team was happy to have with us the Vice Principal of Jaswant Modern School, Ms. Kanchan Seth to give the final Vote of Thanks. She began by sharing with us the heartbreaking story of why their school’s Principal was not able to attend the event. The Safai Karmachari of their school had passed away only an hour earlier, and the Principal had gone to meet the family. She expressed that the loss not only affected the Principal but the entire school community and how their school managed waste. On any event, every student is asked to get their own plate, glass, and spoon to an extent that they have not allowed any kind of plastic on campus for the past 3 years, since they’ve been associated with Waste Warriors.

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With the hope that this message reaches and is absorbed by every student and teacher who was present at the event and many others who will be reading this, I give our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who works towards improving the condition of solid waste management in our country. I would like to appreciate each one who is either segregating, picking up another person’s thrown waste, sweeping our streets, emptying our dustbins, or cleaning our floors. I’m also grateful for all the active citizens who are working to raise awareness among their family, friends, and neighbors on the importance of managing waste and helping us work towards a cleaner tomorrow. Thankyou all the Safai Sathis!

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