There is a little oasis of sustainability, not far from Chennai, amidst rural Tamil Nadu, called Auroville. It is a place with thriving organic farms and lots of small businesses centred upon the environment in some way. This is where I first encountered the enterprising WasteLess people who created the Garbology 101 curriculum. It’s also where EcoFemme began (more on that in a later post). Below are photographs of my guesthouse, including the posters placed over the toilet which educate visitors about sanitary waste.
The waste segregation is a bit of a mixed bag there. On the one hand, you find segregation bins around the visitor’s centre, but outside my guesthouse (and actually in my guest house room) there’s just one bin where everything goes so it gets mixed.
EcoService is where Auroville’s waste gets segregated. The keep it stockpiled so that when they sell it to the scrap dealers they get a higher rate. It’s all quite organised and clean as you can see in the photographs above. The women who work there no longer need any gloves because there is no wet/organic waste mixed in with the dry waste. They’re also doing some innovative things with non-recyclable waste. They’re taking thermocol and creating small pellets out of it to mix with cement and to be used as building material.
For the most part segregation works well in Auroville because it’s incentivised. That means that everyone who lives and works in the community must pay for the waste they produce. If they don’t segregate their waste, they pay more! Though there are places in Auroville where one can find piles of waste, that is mostly because people decided to not pay for their waste so they sell off their waste to the kabadiwallas and then take the things that can’t be recycled and dump it in parts of the forested areas.
There are lots of people in Auroville who also use what others might call waste as materials for making things, including building homes as in the images above.
In the surrounding villages, there is also quite a lot of reuse you can see. The best example of this are the various furniture shops where you can see lots of fabulous pieces of old wood, old pieces of homes like windows and doors, being reshaped into gorgeous desks, bookshelves, and chairs.
The market at Auroville is also a Zero Waste haven, at least this is as good as it gets in India. Most everything is available in bulk–from biscuits to shampoo and cleaning products to rice and dal. Also the refrigerated dairy products tend to come in glass jars, which one just brings back to the market, and then the farmers pick up their jars and refill them and start the whole cycle over again. Still, it’s disappointing to see disposable items like sanitary pads when there are the fabulous EcoFemme pads sitting beautifully on top.
Another Auroville project, Sadhana Forest, is centred upon reforestation, has a pretty strong Zero Waste initiative. Their garbage collection facility is stores various rinsed/cleaned objects in their properly segregated sacks. When it gets to be too much, these resources will go to the Auroville EcoService primary collection point. But until then, it’s kept in a way that those who want to reuse items can easily find and take what they need. Some of the roofing on their huts is made from old tetra paks, although this doesn’t seem like the most ideal, long-term solution as you can see (last 3 photographs above) that overtime it starts breaking down and flaking on the ground.
Finally, for visitors who want to sample some of the innovative products made by Aurovillians and, often times, villagers in the area, the above is a sampling of the various eco-friendly products they make. Of course, EcoFemme is there and WasteLess is selling its fabulous card game, “Pick It Up”. But there are also some interesting projects like Well Paper, which sells crafts made by women in the neighbouring villages out of newspaper or used CDs and natural ingredients like mango seeds. There is also Small Steps, which makes these terrifically strong shopping bags that fold up into a tiny little sack that you can easily keep in your pocket or purse and pull it out later when you go shopping.