Nature - Working on waste
by Shivi Verma
Monisha Narke: Caregiver to the planet Our Planet Earth is in imminent danger of becoming one large garbage bin. Not only is the problem acute in urban strongholds, but it has infiltrated the Polar regions as well as outer space. Fortunately for humanity, we are not short of environment heroes, who not only spread awareness of the grave danger that awaits us but are also doing what they can to control the damage. One such agency is RUR, an organisation focused on reducing and recycling waste.
An acronym for Are you Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, RUR is led and operated by four dynamic women, and works on the premise that everything produced by humans can be reduced, reused or recycled to fulfil some or other need.
It is a non-profit organisation, working hard to bring awareness in people about the ills of mindless dumping, the benefits of reducing daily garbage produce, and the usefulness of waste. Its fundamental mission, though, is to protect Mother Earth, and her delicate ecology and help her heal. The team consists of four core members, Sejal Kshirsagar, Smita Shirodkar, Malavika Gadiyar, and Monisha Narke who is the founder.
The organisation was started in the year 2009 by Monisha, a Stanford University engineering graduate from USA, who currently lives in Mahim, Mumbai. She settled in India after working for sometime in America, and joined her family business. After her marriage in 2000, the birth of her two daughters led to her to taking a sabbatical from work. During this period, a visit to her farmhouse in Gujarat drove home the sorry state of the environment. “There were polythene bags scattered in every part of the land,” she recalls. In 2007 she happened to attend a programme by Rishi Sandipani Vidya Kendra (RSVK) a spiritual organisation founded by Rishi Prabhakar, founder of the Siddhi Samadhi Yoga (SSY) technique. The programme stressed upon the need to lead a holistic life as responsible citizens who cared for the environment. “They spoke about the oneness of the world and our mutual interconnectedness. They talked about how we as individuals can take small but significant steps to stem the rot and set an example. This really fired my spirit. I wanted to be useful to society. I also did a course called PI (Professional Insights), which is a part of the SSY range of activities, where we were asked to visualise a project we could take up. A cleaner Mumbai was the vision that I got. But the idea took time to shape up.” For six months she researched on waste management which included segregating waste and composting. She used wet waste to produce manure for plants in her house. “I saw that 70 per cent of the waste produced in our homes was wet waste which is biodegradable, 30 per cent is dry waste which can either be reused or recycled as raw material for other products. When nature is able to recycle everything, why can’t we? My aim ultimately is to arrive at zero waste.” And her vision needed like-minded people to take it forward. She sensed an opportunity when she met other women at the kindergarten where her children went. She began to forge friendship with other mothers. In due course she was talking about waste segregation, waste reduction, nature-friendly alternatives and composting. She was delighted to know that some ladies were already taking measures to reduce the use of plastic, and segregate their waste. When interest and inquiry in her proposal grew, she designed a presentation and showed it to them. It spoke about the method of composting and how to do it at community level. Malavika Gadiyar, a core team member of RUR and one of the first ones to be convinced by Monisha’s vision, says, “Some 50 women met up and started composting. The first year went in bringing awareness among people, housewives, students, through workshops and presentations. Alongside, we began to stitch cloth bags too, to encourage people to use them in place of plastic bags.”
Though Monisha’s measures may appear small, the concerns that drive her are big. “In Mumbai alone, 8,000 metric tonnes of waste is produced daily and 1,000 trucks are deployed to send away the waste. The waste is dumped in landfills at Govandi (Deonar), and the toxicity that arises from it is huge. If we read the state laws on the management of waste, they are very good and amply clear about how waste from homes need to be arranged and organised, so that it can easily be recycled, but because of India’s demography, it is very difficult to monitor and implement. But through generating awareness, a lot can be achieved without governmental intervention. I first started with my own society where I live. I went door-to-door urging people to segregate waste, and reduce the quanta of waste produced by them everyday.
“For reusing, I set up composting bins in my housing society and every day people from other flats would keep out their wet waste which would be collected and composted by a man appointed by RUR. The manure thus produced was open for society dwellers to use freely. It was not an easy job though to convince people. There were objections that composting in the vicinity was giving rise to mosquitoes. But gradually I was able to convince and win them over. My next plan is to see that every society becomes aware and adopts these measures.”
As for the dry waste, RUR spends time in setting up waste management systems. They do waste audit like studying the quantum of waste produced by any housing society, and conduct surveys to know the impact on the environment. They also network with tetrapack carton manufacturers, that make cartons for companies such as Fruity, Amul, Nestle, and provide them with raw material obtained from the dry waste collection. “For this, our volunteers urge people to pick discarded cartons, dry them, flatten them and peel away the plastic and aluminium lining on their insides,” says Smitha Dilip Shirodhkar, one of the four core team members. The Sahakari Bhandar is a fair-priced cooperative retail chain which has 20 stores in Mumbai, which now act as drop-off centres for this purpose. Cut, cleaned and flattened cartons can be dropped at these stores, and at the end of the month all of it is collected by the manufacturers who recycle it to make new cartons. The plastic and metal linings are sent to factories to make composite boards for roofing and furniture. Says Monisha, “We have roped in schools too in this endeavour. So far we have organised workshops on gardening, growing vegetables and composting in 20 schools. Our workshops on subjects like careers in environment protection have been able to garner tremendous response from the student fraternity. As a result, students obediently bring empty tetrapack cartons from home to school, and the teachers later deposit them at the nearest Sahakari Bhandar for the workers from respective factories to take them away.
“But the scale of this problem is far too big for the small measures that are being taken by us,” she laments. “Big packs and cartons can be handled but small plastic satchets, plastic coverings of candies, shampoo pouches, paan masalas are very difficult to collect and recycle as people generally throw them away instead of putting them in a bin. So awareness has to be generated at the manufacturer level too. It is necessary that instead of plastic, they use biodegradable coverings of paper, textile, PE films or bio-plastic – a plastic made from plants for packaging their products. This definitely is my dream and I am sure it is achievable. Till then my mantra is, first reduce, then reuse and last of all, recycle your waste,” she emphasises.
For Monisha to be successful, all she needs is for each of us to have two garbage bins at home, one for dry waste and the other for wet. After all, damaging the environment of which we are part is akin to cutting the very branch we are sitting upon. Let’s save our souls and our planet too!
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