Towards a clean environment | Sunday Observer

Towards a clean environment

5 December, 2021

Have you seen heaps of garbage piled up on the side of roads and in bare lands? You will agree that such garbage mounds are an eyesore, not to mention the stench. They also lead to the possibility of diseases as mosquitoes could breed in such environments.

We tend to believe that clearing such garbage is the duty and responsibility of our Local Bodies. It indeed is. They are required to keep their wards clean and tidy. By and large, they do an admirable job in this respect, but sometimes it gets delayed, which leads to the above mentioned scenario.

Most of our cities are very clean, with no garbage in sight anywhere. Many overseas visitors, especially those from South Asia, are impressed by how clean Colombo is compared to the cities they come from. This is a compliment to our sanitation and essential services workers, who worked even during the pandemic lockdown without a break. Without their tireless efforts, our cities and villages will not look so clean. They deserve our heartfelt thanks for a job well done. The State and Local Bodies must look after them well, perhaps by giving them more incentives.

Minimise household waste

But we have to remember that they can only do so much to keep our cities and the environment clean. They are doing their part and we have to do ours. But how can we do that? First, we have to minimise household waste. If you have four persons in your household, but cook food for six persons, chances are that you will end up throwing away the excess food.

Now there is a movement in many countries which calls for minimum consumption according to one’s daily needs. We should also think along similar lines. There are two options here. One is to prepare more or less the exact amount of food required by the household for a give meal. The other is to keep the extra food in the refrigerator for the next meal.

I regularly do this in case there is extra food. This way, not a single morsel of food is wasted. Some foods can also be deep frozen for a week or even two weeks, thawed, reheated and then consumed with no loss of flavour or quality. Of course, there is some waste generated during the preparation stage itself, for which there is an ideal solution.

It is called composting and tallies well with the Government’s organic agriculture drive. There are special composting bins available in the market, but you can also make compost without specialist equipment. You can learn from numerous videos on YouTube and TikTok on this subject.

Composting is the ultimate solution to food waste that everyone can do with a minimum outlay and effort. Your plants and soil will love the compost and you will save a bundle on chemical fertilizers too.

All you need is a home garden but even those living in apartments can use the compost on plants grown in pots.

Other ways

There are many other ways in which we can make a positive contribution to the environment around us. In this context, the 3R concept is worth a mention.

It means Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Reducing consumption automatically leads to less waste and you save money too. For example, we should reduce the use of plastics and better still, give it up altogether.

The Government has already banned many types of polythene and single-use plastics to aid this effort. Where possible, we should opt for alternative products made from environment-friendly materials. Sometimes these may cost a little more, but the long-term benefit to the environment is immeasurable.

The concept of reusing various materials is well entrenched in our society. Instead of using sili-sili bags at the supermarket, why not use a cloth bag which you can use many times over and over again? There are many things that we can re-use in our day-to-day lives, from clothes to cups. Re-using everyday things has many benefits, including, of course, saving our hard-earned money.

Recycling may be a relatively recent addition to the lexicon, but we have been practicing it for decades. Can you remember the days when you had to hand over an empty soft drink bottle to get a new one? (Well, that means you are really old). That is recycling in action.

This era came to an end with the introduction of the dreaded PET bottles, which are throwaway plastic ones. This has led to a massive strain on the environment. But now, there is a sort of a renaissance in consumer recycling, with the likes of glass bottles back in vogue.

The key is to identify things that can be ‘recycled’ at home level (such as glass bottles) and at commercial level in recycling centres (such as empty cans of fish).

Commercial recycling problems

The problem with most commercial recycling programs here in Sri Lanka is that they begin with a lot of fanfare amidst the glare of TV lights but fade out without a trace a few months down the road. Many cities have recycling bins for paper, glass, plastic and other materials such as metal cans and tins but they no longer seem to be cleared regularly.

The relevant Local Bodies must immediately spring into action and reactivate these recycling initiatives. Similarly, a program was started recently to recycle the millions of toothbrushes and ballpoint pens thrown away daily in Sri Lanka, but this should be given more publicity in the media as no one knows how to participate in this worthy venture.

It will also be worthwhile to explore the possibility of recycling the millions of surgical and KN95 face masks thrown away daily for a non-hygienic use.

There are many ways to keep the environment safe and clean. But it is mainly up to us to take the initiative instead of expecting the Central Government or Local Bodies to do everything. As outlined above, many of these steps won’t even cost a Rupee. It is our duty to keep the environment clean and secure for posterity.