There Are More Fruits In A Rich Man’s Shampoo Than On A Poor Man’s Plate: What We Learnt About Waste By Cleaning Up Our Own

Note: What is the value of waste? More specifically, old items that we want to get rid of from our homes since they take up room and add to clutter? A challenge was posed to the children of Keerthi Harmony, a community of 312 flats in Bangalore, as a summer activity. Over 50 children participated to extend the life of over 500 kgs of community discards.

Here's what they have to say about their experience and what they learnt from it.

India generates 150 million tons of waste in a day and most of it is left in the landfills at the city’s outskirts. While everyone likes to believe that out of sight is out of mind, the fact is that landfills are a major cause of pollution and deadly disease as well as a contributor to green house gases which accelerate climate change. The effects of our actions are felt even several kilometres away. In Bangalore city alone, we deal with 4,500 tons of waste per day! Bangalore is a landfill-less city and it has to learn to manage its waste in an accelerated manner. To reduce waste, many waste management programs have been started by BBMP and Citizen Volunteers: segregation of waste at source, composting of wet waste at source, zero-waste festivals and celebrations are some of them.

In Keerthi Harmony, a community of 312 flats in Bangalore with over 1000 residents, we have been learning to manage our waste since 2014. We segregate our waste, compost a large part of our wet waste and also promote zero-waste parties and celebrations – 'less to landfills' is our motto. Recently, the younger children also appeared on TV when they showcased the work that our community was carrying out at the Vijinapura Composting Santhe.

 

'Less to landfills' is our motto.

 

This year, we the teens of Keerthi Harmony have tried managing a category of waste of our community: the discards from our houses. We started by collecting things that people did not require anymore. We wanted to ensure they reached the poor who might find them valuable. We went door to door and collected things like clothes, books, utensils, toys, shoes and e-waste.

 The team from Keerthi Harmony Kids Club

The team from Keerthi Harmony Kids Club

To minimise waste beginning at the collection stage, we reused single-side used paper for printing information posters. Our adults also sent messages on WhatsApp to inform residents. We collected discarded sacks from shops around us to collect and store things.

About 50 children aged from 8 to 18 years collected and sorted things. Initially, we were reluctant to go house to house and collect things that we felt was trash. As people appreciated our work, we were motivated to continue. We soon started showing interest and two days became five. One recurring remark we kept hearing was that we were helping them get rid of old things in their houses! We then started sorting everything into the following categories: children’s (below 5 yrs and above 5 yrs), women's, men's clothes and shoes, woollens, toys, books (recyclables, story books, school books), utensils, metal waste, e-waste and electronics. We removed what we felt was unusable, damaged or very old. More than three-fourths of the 500 kgs collected were clothes. Even though we mentioned we would collect old electronics, we managed to get only one DVD player.

We initially thought we would just give all these away free of cost, but we learnt about Antharaganga Vidya Samsthe, an orphanage for mentally and physically challenged children, who were struggling to get funds to provide food and medicines for their wards. We decided to use the things collected to raise funds for these children who were the same age as us, but did not enjoy our privileged lives.

Over 10 days we collected, sorted and labeled the products and got them ready for a mini mela for our house helpers, security and housekeeping staff. We announced to them that good quality things were available at Rs 5 to Rs. 50 and we held the mini market. We cleaned up the market area ourselves. Over 300 products were sold. All who bought were highly appreciative to be able to buy necessary stuff, all in good condition at throwaway prices.

 A customer at the mini market

A customer at the mini market

Selling was a great experience, especially being bargained with! We were surprised that people were willing to take things from the discards pile – what we felt nobody would require. It was an eye opener for us – what’s waste to one is of so much value to others.

Kids' and women’s clothes sold the most. One house help, who was our biggest customer, bought school bags, lunch boxes, shoes and other school supplies for her and her sister’s 9 children! She was thankful since we helped her save thousands of rupees on school purchases. She even bought a grand dress for her daughter’s birthday and was so happy to be able to gift her daughter a really nice dress for a change! All these were new experiences for us. We started understanding the worth of things even if it was waste for us. In one single day, we managed to raise Rs.6000. All helpers asked us to put it up as a two-day sale the following year, somewhere outside where they could bring their families and neighbours to purchase as well!

We donated a large part of old textbooks, school shoes, water bottles, lunch boxes, clothes and woollen clothes to Mr. Krishna of K R Puram Constituency Association Welfare Federation, who donated them to Anandpura Government School for distribution to needy children.

 Donations to the government school

Donations to the government school

After all this we still had about 300 kgs of things with us. We used part of the proceeds to hire a truck and sent these items to Goonj, who will distribute to the poor and needy in villages.

 Loading the truck to Goonj

Loading the truck to Goonj

The leftover scrap, broken toys, old notebooks and things beyond repair we collected was sold to ORS (Old Raddi Sold) and the proceeds of Rs 770 were again transferred to Antharagange Vidya Samsthe. We were quite surprised to learn that people bought even these. Mr. Hemant of ORS very patiently explained the recycling process and how it saves our country a lot of money and resources instead of using energy and virgin materials to make products.                                        

We were finally left with a small bunch of rejects, largely Styrofoam, non-woven polypropylene bags and so on, which cannot be recycled. But we were happy that it was hardly 2 kg out of 500 kg collected. 

 Under 2 kgs of reject waste!

Under 2 kgs of reject waste!

Over 10 days here's what we achieved:

  • 200 households de-cluttered.
  • 500 kg of household rejects got new life!
  • Over 60 community helpers got to buy good quality products at reasonable prices.
  • We created value out of waste - a reasonable donation to AVS. (The lady on the phone said that given their circumstance, Rs 5000 felt like Rs 50,000.)
  • We facilitated educational supplies to at least 50 children of the Government School!
  • We collected over 30 books to start a small community library for ourselves, which we hope to launch soon.
  • We tore out unused paper from notebooks to convert into rough note books for our school work.

We loved what we did and hope to hold more such campaigns during our next vacations as well!

 150 kgs of recyclable waste sold

150 kgs of recyclable waste sold

 Selling recyclable waste

Selling recyclable waste

Our special thanks to:

Our EC members who supported the kids unconditionally to allow for this activity to take place. They have patiently listened to us late in the night after work, immediately supported the idea and ensured that all support is giving to the activity.

Our Facility Manager and our House Keeping and Security staff for supporting to put up the stalls, cleanup before and after and mobilising house helpers and even helping us with porting things back and forth! 

Our Housekeeping staff very sweetly brought juice and water for us when we were sorting and storing.

Ladies of our community: Suganya Aunty, Jayanthi Aunty and Shobha Aunty for taking time to help us with sorting and selling.