Environmental Catastrophe

After a breath taking presentation at the conference room at Wastless by Ribhu Vohra who is the co-founder of Wastless organization which focuses on waste crises and approaches to solve it. We discussed the waste crises and Wastless’s role in educating a new generation that cares about the environment. One thing Ribhu said that captured me was “I want to educate a new generation that when they want to elect a new Indian governor, to choose the one who cares about the environment and the mother nature”. Ribhu also talked about recycling and how there are only few places that recycle because not all citizens separate compostable waste from non-compostable waste.

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Mixed Waste dumped in the dumpsite in Pondicherry

Ribhu decided to show us the crises or, as I would call it, the catastrophe with our own eyes. AUP students visited the dumpsite in Pondicherry and on the way, we visited the recycling workshop where Indian women separate compostable waste from non-compostable waste. Ribhu gave us a lecture while we were in the dump, where the garbage of Pondicherry’s one million residents and Auroville’s residents is dumped in the 25-acre dump yard! None of us could breath and the smell was awful. Security men asked us not to take photos as none of the governors want to show this to the world, yet I was able to capture few photos with my phone, as every time I hold my camera the security guard would shout at me.

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Separated compostable waste

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An Indian woman holding a plastic item after separating compostable waste from non-compostable waste.

Explaining this catastrophe from a scientific matter; the waste decomposes and it generates heat and highly flammable methane gas. The gas combusts, igniting other materials: paper, plastics, rubber, cloth. The waste then smolders in a low-temperature fire, producing massive amounts of smoke, and generating persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which rank among the most hazardous substances known to man. Such toxins are consumed by and accumulate in wildlife and livestock at the site such as cows and chickens, then transfer the toxins to humans through eggs, meat and milk, as Ribhu explained. Regarding this information, we can imagine the number of illnesses and the risk of cancer facing the residents and the future generations.

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The dumpsite in Pondicherry

The situation raises several questions: What were the authorities thinking when they decided to create a massive open dumpsite? The site violates several provisions of the government’s garbage management regulations. The rules prohibit the open dumping and uncontrolled burning of mixed waste. In other words, the dumping and burning of mixed waste are punishable offenses yet no one is doing any action. As citizens of the world, we MUST take care of our world, not only for us but for our children. Which made me recall this quote by Arthur C. Clarke “This is the first age that’s paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we might have one!”

By Nehal AbuMarahiel

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