The Kodai Chronicle spoke to environmentalist Deepa about how children can become part of the solution to waste management in Kodai.
Founder of the widely followed Facebook group Zero Waste Lifestyle- India, the giving and receiving forum Dariya Dil Dukaan, Delhi’s first permaculture-based community terrace and the initiative Buy nothing challenge- India, Deepa is also a consultant for India’s first thrift shop. Currently she is spending time in our town sharing her skills as a decluttering consultant, mentor on how to reduce your ecological impact, permaculture gardener, humanure enthusiast, bullet journal life coach, non-violent communicator, and housesitter.
TKC: How is waste relevant to children?
Deepa: Most relevant. I see waste the way I see children. Every child is born with immense potential. When we fail to see these possibilities, which may be different from our own expectations, we see failure. The same goes for waste. Nothing is really waste; it is just our inability to see possibilities.
Children have an imagination that we as adults lose somewhere along the way.
They can see potential in an empty carton, a broken tile, a piece of cloth or an old tyre.
TKC: So is it about involving children in upcycling?
Deepa: Not upcycling, but encouraging a respect for everything they engage with. I recently met a child in Kodai who picked up a discarded tin of snuff with such glee—to the disgust of his parents. If only we could look at every human being we meet in the same way. Nothing is dirty. Nothing is useless. Nothing is waste. Is it possible to protect and nurture this powerful quality that our children are born with? I hope it is.
Upcycling is not a solution. How many water bottle planters can one make and use? Once a bottle is converted into a planter that’s the end of the journey for it. And recyclers don’t accept soiled or dirty plastic. The real game changer is refusing to make waste. Switch from bottled water to boiled water instead.
TKC: You think children can bring about this change?
Deepa: Yes, they sure can. They are more flexible. And they can bring about this change in a tender, loving way. Not by antagonising people but by carrying people along with them.
TKC: So how can children be a part of the solution?
Deepa: There is no simplistic solution. Upcycling at a personal level is not very practical. But putting waste into the hands of those who can transform it into fuel, paper, bricks and other possibilities is the way to go. And simultaneously tame the dragon of consumption. Children are constantly given all that they want. Most of these ‘gifts’ are soon ignored for newer things.
TKC: Are there any tips to get children started on their waste awareness journey?
Deepa: First of all, it is not necessary that a child has to get involved in waste management. There has to be a genuine desire to work with waste; only then will it make a difference. Children and adults can also find other ways to make a difference in the world. No compulsions here.
Coming to how a child can get started, they have to begin looking at waste at ground zero—their homes.
I help families get started on their zero-waste journey. The first thing we discuss is whether they want to take this on or not, and how they can always decide to opt out.
Then I suggest a seven-step process.
- I ask the children to start a dustbin watch—they make a note of what all goes into their dustbin every day for a month. So they make a list every evening: peels, veggies, wrappers, foil, plastic bags—everything. They don’t need to take any action, just keep a watch.
- After a month we add it all up to see exactly how much of everything went into the bin. Then we discuss where all this garbage goes. Maybe arrange a visit to a garbage dump, neighbourhood recycling centre or junk yard. I let them come to their own conclusions and create their own action points. We only have to facilitate the creation of awareness.
- We then count all the toys we have.
- A week or two later we count all the books we have.
- We then count all the clothes we have.
- With the counting comes an awareness of what is used and liked or not used at all. All the ‘not used/will never use’ goes into a gift pile. Guests are welcome to go through the pile and pick out anything they need. The rest of it is given away, not to just one NGO but distributed across various places that welcome gifts.
- I then introduce them to the shopping game: for every new thing that enters the house, three old things have to be gifted away.
TKC: Sounds very doable. What about composting, water conservation and saving electricity?
Deepa: If they take on the seven steps and stick to them, the rest should follow automatically. Doing too much too soon could put them off completely.
The best way to get children involved is to get involved ourselves. They will then follow our example.
Adults can implement simple things like closing all running water in the house and only using water from buckets to keep track of usage. Keeping three tubs to wash dishes instead of washing them under a running tap. Reduce packaging waste by buying in bulk whenever possible. Carrying your own containers and bags when going shopping. Choosing options with less packaging, paper packaging or no packaging at all. Buying local instead of ordering online. Making every fifth purchase from a second-hand or thrift store.
If we use a pencil instead of a pen and then plant a tree as thanks for the pencil in use, children will see this.
If we stop buying new clothes and wear the ones we have, children will not associate their image and self-esteem with new clothes or accessories.
TKC: Thank you, Deepa. Any last piece of advice you would like to give children?
Deepa: You are wise, and perfect just the way you are. Even if people forget that, you should never forget.
Deepa is in Kodai for a while, living with individuals/families who may want to slow/fast-track their lives to a greener one (to get in touch, write email@example.com).