The holidays have begun and I’m now home in Bangalore. But before leaving campus, I photographed the waste left behind by the girls in my hostel. The first photograph below is of last year’s end-of-year waste. The second one is from last week. The second photograph also includes 2 cement sacks of waste from my house (one paper, one plastic) that I accumulated over the past 6 weeks. It’s a remarkable difference that I’ve seen for all of us at the hostel level.
I think that part of the reason for this change is that there is more consciousness among the girls about what they consume and what they throw “away”. Often things left behind are just tossed (as you can see in photo 1), but also that’s because those items (including lots of unused notebooks) are deemed useless. This year one girl took an empty locker and neatly collected such items so we can divvy them up when we all return to campus.
Much of the clothing that girls are through with are donated to the villages around us if they are still in good condition. But if the items are torn or stained we use them for our various upcycling workshops and art projects.
But there is so much else that can be done with our so-called waste. There’s a terrific initiative on U.S. college campuses that tries to deal with the amount of waste that is produced over the course of a semester. It is called Post-landfill. Here is a description of how their project got started in New Hampshire:
In 2011, a group of undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire noticed dumpsters overflowing with reusable materials after spring move-out. Then, in the fall, they watched as students moving back to campus bought many of the same items new at big box stores. To end this cycle of waste, the students created a program called Trash 2 Treasure. They collected useable items discarded by students in the spring, cleaned and organized those items over the summer, and sold them to students moving back to campus in the fall. The first Trash 2 Treasure sale was a huge success, earning more than it cost to operate – creating the country’s first student-run, self-sustaining program of its kind. In the three years since then, Trash 2 Treasure has diverted over 100 tons of waste from local landfills, donated over five tons of food and clothing to local shelters, and saved students and their families thousands of dollars on back-to-school shopping.
It would be wonderful if such a project could be initiated in India, too. Of course, the Post-landfill people are ultimately invested in creating awareness and sustainability through a zero-waste paradigm. The project, called Trash 2 Treasure, in itself certainly raises awareness about the level of consumption that should, ideally, help people to begin to reduce what they use.
In India, if you plan ahead and care enough, you can save these items and give them to Goonj, which has a project to collect items–especially old textbooks, notebooks, and other school items. You can drop them off at one of their many urban collection centres around the country.