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Trashonomics: How a crow can teach school kids to reduce waste footprint

A new booklet in Bengaluru may get children to transform how India manages solid waste, just as they once shunned crackers

Anjuli Bhargava  |  New Delhi 

school, students
Representative Image

If schoolchildren led the way with crackers, could they also lead the way with a better approach to solid management? That is the thought behind ‘Trashonomics’, an easy-to-read and illustrated booklet that explains, through the device of a crow — a bird which wastes nothing — how children can reduce their footprint.

Conceived by Bengaluru-based and Claire Rao, the idea is to guide and prod children into adopting good practices as a way of life that will last into adulthood.

They feel that, had such a book been around when they were growing up, India would not now be grappling with a epidemic. “If we want to get to the root of the garbage and solid waste management problem that looms large in India, the best place to start is with schools and children,” said Kashyap.

The project started when Prasad and Rao were working with the Solid Waste Management (SWM) Roundtable in Bangalore, a public interest collective of SWM practitioners working for the adoption of sustainable waste management practices among citizens and municipalities. One day, they decided to take a look at children’s textbooks to see how they dealt with the subject.

To their dismay, most textbooks didn’t deal with it at all. The concept was either missing altogether or, if mentioned at all, it was in a cursory way. No practical solutions were being taught to students. Generations were growing up unaware of the hazards of failing to manage our garbage properly.

That’s when the idea began to form. Why not target the best, most nimble and impressionable change-makers? Young minds still open to fresh ideas? If children had said “no to crackers” for the sake of the environment, could they not be sensitized to reducing their own waste?

“We wanted every child to learn the essential life-skill of managing waste,” said Kashyap. They swung into action, pulling in experts to develop the content. In the booklet that finally emerged, five chapters explain what happens when one mixes waste, burns it or dumps it, what can be done to reduce the total quantity generated, and how to segregate it.

One chapter suggests home solutions, simple ideas on what everybody can start doing at home right away. The book teaches how to handle organic waste at home including composting and what can be done with recyclable waste. It also touches on the need to be a responsible consumer by minimizing the use of plastic.

Now available in English, Kannada, Hindi and Oriya, the group has started working on introducing the booklet in schools. Students are taken through the book in a workshop of three sessions. A second booklet, Liquid Trashonomics, is expected by June 2019.

So far, close to 200 schools, mostly in Bangalore, Mysore and five in Delhi, with around 20,000 students have been directly targeted. In addition, the team is conducting training for teachers in conjunction with organisations that already train teachers such as Tata Trusts’ Kalike and Bala Janaagraha.

Recently, the department of education in Karnataka asked the team to train the teachers of 120 government schools. All teachers who attend are given an activity kit and a set of books so that they in turn can conduct workshops in their schools.

Trashomonics is the outcome of Bengaluru being one of the first cities to start talking about three way waste management (dry, wet and hazardous). The SWM Roundtable is one of the forces behind the movement, running successful programmes, and even influencing policy.

The Bengaluru Recycling Habba was the first city-wide recycling awareness initiative in 2011-12. Recyclathon 2011 was the first of its kind sustainability competition among communities for better waste management.

The Roundtable also led, a three way segregation with colour coding that was widely adopted by citizens and became the law in Bengaluru in 2015. A year later, the initiative was launched, a city-wide campaign to promote home composting and responsible waste management, highlight the importance of saying “No To Landfills” and saying “Yes to Growing Safe Food”.

The SWM Roundtable and are supported by The Anonymous Indian Charitable Trust (TAICT), an incubator and powerhouse for good ideas that create social change. Both Kashyap and Rao work for the Trust. Myriam Shankar, its managing trustee, is the prime mover behind many of its initiatives and can claim to have made a dent in the ever-growing mountain of garbage in Bengaluru.

The ultimate aim of the initiative is for the booklet to become part of the state curriculum and, at some point, the curriculum.

First Published: Sat, February 23 2019. 23:35 IST