The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Where Is Your Food?

By Manasi Rao, Class of 2018

Ashoka University has been in contract with Caterman services for almost a year now. Caterman’s decision to put up a board displaying number of kilograms of food wasted every day seems like a considerate idea. Because of the awareness generated by the board and steps taken to ensure minimal waste, the amount of food waste fell from the thirty kilograms to just a few ten kilograms within a few weeks.

However, not everything might actually be going right. The board says — ‘____ number of children could have been fed with the food wasted’. This statement would have been apt if the food that is being wasted went to hungry children; instead it follows a very different route.

Here is the trajectory that it follows. The waste generated on campus can be classified into three very broad categories — organic, recyclable and hazardous. Organic comprises of mainly the food waste and garden waste. Hazardous waste includes toilet papers, condoms, bio-medical waste, and used razors. Even though sanitary napkins have their own sanitary waste bin, many students discard them with the toilet waste. Recyclable waste is whatever does not go into one of the other bins.

Despite having a compost machine on campus, not all the organic waste is composted. There is more production of food waste than the composting needs; therefore the excess food waste is taken to a place, a few kilometres south of Rajiv Gandhi Education City. The excess food waste is given, not sold, to man who owns a sounder of pigs. The pigs spend their time near a garbage dump near their shed, and eat the Ashoka’s excess food waste with gusto. They are kept and fed to be slaughtered and sold as pork. The conditions are filthy and extremely foul smelling.

Pigs breeding near the garbage piles strewn in the lanes of Sonepat

The process of disposal of recyclable and hazardous waste isn’t any better. A segregation station near the Singhu Border (border of Haryana and Delhi) handles the rest of Ashoka’s waste. As sophisticated as it sounds, the segregation station is anything but that. It is large garage with tall piles of plastic, paper, cardboard and glass waste. The garbage is brought in bins that are emptied by team of four women who then segregate it without any protective gear. The women were paid around 6,000 rupees a month and work an 8 hour shift, 6 days a week. The air around the station swarms with flies that are enough to be easily inhaled.

As investigated, there is no payment made to the people who do this work. The income that they earn comes from the revenue earned by selling this garbage. The garbage is sold to other middlemen who handle the cleaning of the waste. After being cleaned the waste is sent to the recycling units. Shockingly, it is down-cycling, rather than recycling that happens. The product made after this process is always of lower quality than the original product. The hazardous waste is then sent to another location where it is incarcerated. However, nothing can be classified at the segregation station until it is sent to a landfill.

Hazardous waste left open near houses

Looking at the number of people involved in this invisible process of collection, segregation should make one realise the complexity and details involved in this system that the Ashoka community is a part of. There are enterprising men and women who earn their money from handling what often goes unnoticed. Therefore, even though the board in the mess says otherwise, the wasted food is only consumed by pigs, ready to be slaughtered. There is a clear lack of awareness and adequate measures that are being taken to look into this matter. The wastage of food is becoming an increasing concern and the numbers of wasted materials are not dropping. In this situation the question falls on the entire community. Don’t just savour, Save More.

(Photography by Manasi Rao)

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