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Occupational Hazards of a Waste Researcher

Amassing the dailies, monthlies and squeezed-till-I-have-made-sure-I-can’t-extract-more-paste toothpaste tubes/shampoo bottles and such other ’junk’, in one end of the cabinet (whose other end was often a concealed shoe rack for the slightly pricier ones) is a common practise in a middle-class household. Well, at least in mine, it still is. Growing up, I was ‘responsible’ not only for stacking the newspapers and periodicals neatly, but also for making sure the said stockpile was periodically disposed end of the month as a general rule. As a proviso though, I was forbidden from getting rid of this junk on Tuesdays, Fridays or any other auspicious days and any time after the clock struck six. I’d fetch our regular Zaufar waste paper mart Anna, go after his tricycle on my bicycle, get him to weigh the trash in front of me and collect those few bucks. This would range anywhere between INR 50 and INR 200 depending on the quality of paper and quantum of the junk. End of an academic year and other such occasions invariably meant more returns. These quick bucks also known as my ‘trashuary’ made a great allowance for some unnecessary stationery that I didn’t need or some extra calories that I could have avoided. Long after I left home, my parents continued to bequeath this meagre sum they made at the waste paper to my trashuary.

Fast forward to 2017, I am a researcher on solid waste management, looking to change the discourse and narratives on waste and waste management in my city. I’d be exaggerating if I said I always knew this is what I’d end up doing- I spent a good 5 years in law school and a couple of years of legal work and then a year at grad school to obtain a Masters in Development Studies. But as someone who has been making very conscious life-style choices especially on food, clothing, hygiene and transport ever since I became financially independent, this job was everything I could ask for. Deep inside, I knew my immersive experience, more than anything, has prepared me quite well for the hard part of this job, also known as the occupational hazards of being a waste researcher. 

Here’s how your life would look if you were me with instances that are totally based on true events and characters (and any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is fully intentional).

1) You get inducted into the ‘waste’ team. And if you are the Project Manager, it makes it even worse for you. You have a preordained disreputableness to undo before anything else- Like waste project manager ya! 

2) People (read family and friends and all the families of friends and friends of those families) are always curious about your work. They are always willing to give you their two cents on your career choices. More so, when you have an undergrad in law and masters in Development Studies and doing some ‘waste’ work. It took them a while to make peace with the former; waste work can wait a whole lifetime.

3) Basically, your outlook of the world changes. You begin to look at the world in a waste binary-organic and compostable or inorganic, recyclable or reusable until you have extracted value unto the end. Everything else (including all those who don’t subscribe to this view) is a waste.

4) When you’re out at a restaurant, you’re more interested in exploring how the restaurant manages its food waste rather than what’s on their buffet spread. Basically all your favourite eateries in the city are some Bulk Waste Producers (BWP) of sorts.

5) Plastics are like your ex(es). Marvellous when you started out, only to realise soon that it was a toxic choice to begin with. You can’t wait to go plastic-free and you’re constantly looking out for better alternatives. Once you have discovered these alternatives, you can't stop talking about how life-changing the transformation has been.

6) You want to give a piece of your mind to everyone who stows plastic covers inside a bigger cover like Babushka dolls, but hey, you have been advised to leave work at office. Duh!

7) The line is very blur between the life of a waste researcher and a vigilante. So, you go after those said plastic hoarders anyway.

8) You scorn at everyone that offers you disposable water bottles and cutlery as if you come with discernible identity that is anti-everything unsustainable.

9) You calm down and begin to deliver a didactic speech on the need to avoid these materials. You get a lot of ‘whatabouteries’ in defence. You may be called a hypocrite, but you know you are trying to change something and that is great in itself.

10) Of course, waste research pays you enough for your sustenance, for everything else, there’s always your trashuary.


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