Three R’s of 21st Century

Three R’s of 21st Century

Narendra M Apte

We all know that as compared with rural people, urban residents have far more exposure to risks associated with environmental pollution, more particularly air, water and, perhaps noise pollution. This is a universal phenomenon more or less; perhaps scenario in developed countries may be slightly better.

There are three areas in respect of which we urbanites have to be alert. First is mounting waste, particularly plastic and electronic waste, most of which remains untreated. Mounting heaps of this waste is I suppose one of the biggest sources of many environmental and consequently, health hazards. Second area is ever- rising levels of air pollution, the main source of which is geometric increase in vehicles on roads. Third is quality of water that we drink.

We in India face all kinds of environmental hazards and what is worrying is that most of us are indifferent to adverse impact of pollution. Time has now come for all of us to make conscious efforts to make our environment as people-friendly as possible. Making our environment people-friendly should become our first priority.

Environmentalists, who favour a sustainable lifestyle, say that it is we (by which I mean all of us who are urbanites), who must make conscious efforts to take control of factors which pollute our air and water resources. Otherwise, we will be leaving for our grand children a world in which they may find it extremely difficult to survive. Indeed this is not a false warning; it is a real possibility.

All those who propagate cause of sustainable lifestyle often talk about the importance of “three Rs”, all of which are related to reduction, reuse and recycle of waste created mainly by lifestyle of the urbanites. ‘Reduce’ ‘Reuse’ and ‘Recycle is the new mantra which I believe will make life of our future generations a little more worthwhile.

Canadian government has suggested a waste management strategy in the form of a hierarchy and I find that it is a revised version of three Rs mentioned above. In brief, the strategy can be explained this way: (a) wherever possible, waste reduction is the preferable option. (b) If waste is produced, every effort should be made to reuse it if practicable. (c) Recycling is the third option in the waste management hierarchy. Although recycling does help to conserve resources and reduce the wastes, it is important to remember that there are economic and environmental costs associated with waste collection and recycling. For this reason, recycling should only be considered for waste which cannot be reduced or reused. (d) Finally, it may be possible to recover materials or energy from waste which cannot be reduced, reused or recycled. This ‘recover’ is the fourth R added by Canadian government and that is quite pertinent.

Empirical evidence suggests that by practising waste prevention, reusing products, recycling, and by making environmentally conscious purchases, we urbanites can ensure that the lives of our grandchildren and great grandchildren would be far less stressful and more worthwhile.

Despite all efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, reality is that we are still left with heaps of waste. Therefore, the focus is now being shifted to sustainable product development. Environmentalists everywhere and particularly in Europe and America, who have perhaps realized that waste management strategies alone won’t do, have prompted technocrats to undertake research in the field of sustainable product development.

Here, I am reminded of a news story recently written by Zoe Cormier, BBC Earth writer. Zoe Cormier who has written about a new concept called “Cradle to Cradle” manufacturing, a vision of how we could and should make things, everything from shoes to shirts to factories to cities.

Basic principle of Cradle to Cradle concept is to model industrial processes on natural ones – what is known as the “biomimetics” approach. Biomimetics is the term for use of natural models in technology innovation. In other words, in biomimetics, scientists/technocrats seek to use natural examples and natural systems in the process of building some technology.

We must ask this question: can we, by using biomimetics clean up the mess we have created through excessive use of plastic products? Mere waste reduction is not enough. We will need to do much more. It is unwise to think that nature will correct human wrongs, as that would take hundreds of thousands of years. We will need to be inventive and take special initiative. And we will need to do so sooner rather than later.

(Narendra M Apte, a Chartered Accountant, is a freelancer.)