The Venus Flytrap: Recycling From Home In Chennai

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I’ve been recycling from home for a couple of years now, and it’s such a normalised part of my life that I’m confident when I say you can do the same, with just minimal effort.

As recycling isn’t big on Chennai’s municipal agenda or imprinted on our civic consciousness, the personal initiative is important. However, we have one major deciding factor which isn’t available everywhere: doorstep collection. I am familiar with two such service providers: Kuppathotti and Paperman (the latter also lets you contribute financially to charitable causes). Both services tie up with small scrap buyers and paper traders in your locality to collect recyclable trash from your home.

When you read about how there’s enough plastic on the planet now to cover Argentina, or about brimming, city-sized landfills, don’t just shake your head and sigh. Know that you can commit to reducing your personal contribution to environmental apocalypse. You’d be astonished how much so-called waste material each individual produces that can be recycled. Once you start, it’s like wearing green goggles: you’ll automatically know what items to collect, without deliberation!

Begin by educating yourself on the process. For instance, did you know there are seven types of plastic, which is why bottles and other materials have a numbered symbol? Once, when a collector declined one kind, saying it could not be recycled, I knew that while that particular scrap buyer didn’t have the resources to accept it, another would. So I called them instead of dumping it all.

I keep a large, covered laundry basket lined with a rubbish bag to collect my recyclable trash, knotting and storing away each bag as it fills. A little wise space management will allow you to do this. If you’re careful about food packaging unless it’s residue-free, you’ll never have issues like bad odour or insects. And always: reduce, reuse, then recycle.

There was a point when I would wash yoghurt cups and other food packaging in order to recycle them, then realised the water wastage negated the effort. It’s important to keep the big picture in mind: it’s not recycling itself that is the point, but how you reduce your ecological footprint. This can extend to various other efforts, depending on your personal capacity: taking shared or public transport, planting and raising trees, composting food waste, consuming local organic produce instead of imported goods, Skyping instead of meeting, reusing cloth grocery bags, avoiding turning on the AC, advocating for solar and other clean energy forms, and so on.

Bear in mind: currently available recycling service providers are small organisations, and rely on a chain of equally small waste traders and their collection staff. This is a chain that can break down, and not because the services are themselves unreliable, but because the system isn’t perfect yet. It can be frustrating to not be able to get through on a phone number, and the sight of garbage bags in your home may become exasperating. But it’s us, ordinary people who want to reduce damage to the environment, who will eventually perfect that system. The more we get involved, the more efficient solutions will be designed and implemented.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on August 3rd 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

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