Garbage to Gold: How we can recycle & reduce rubbish

I came across this initiative called Garbage to Gold at an office forum and got talking to Piyush Sheth, one of the members of this volunteer initiative about how it works.

The amount of garbage strewn around the city is distressing and if we as citizens can do our small bit, it would be one step forward in reducing waste and environmental pollution.

Apparently Mumbai itself generates 6500 metric tonnes of solid waste per day and spends INR 1.25 crores per day to transport it to the dumping site, shares Piyush. In Mumbai, it is now mandatory to segregate waste. The statistics for Bangalore will also probably be rising day by day, considering the rapid growth taking place.

I asked Piyush to enlighten us about this initiative, where garbage can be recycled in such a way that everyone benefits. And it starts from home.

The concept was started by a group called VOW in Mumbai and volunteers are now taking it to different cities, including Bangalore. If you are interested, you can get in touch with Piyush directly for more information.

BM: What is VOW and can you give us a bit of a background of the movement? How did you get associated with the cause?

Piyush: While in Mumbai, I was introduced to a movement called the Humanist Movement that works towards this goal. I began to participate in its activities. The movement empowers individuals to contribute to society and addresses issues of education, health and quality of life. After two years of being a part of this movement in Santa Cruz, I was encouraged to start a similar activity in Wadala-Matunga, the locality in which I stayed. I identified a team of like-minded people who had similar interests. I realized that the best way to go about it was to circulate a newsletter in the neighborhood, which would attract people of all ages.

While working on the newsletter, I came across a group of residents who had started work on Advance Locality Management with the support of the municipal corporation. This group was trying to tackle the garbage problem that Mumbai was facing. That is how I came to be part of the garbage recycling project and began to promote it through the newsletter.

Over a period of time, the residents of Wadala felt a larger platform was needed to reach the city of Mumbai. VOW (Voice Of Wadala), the newsletter that we were distributing, was reaching more than 100,000 people and had a network of more than 500 volunteers. The network spread across Wadala, Matunga, Dadar and Sion. In 2004, when VOW celebrated its 10th anniversary, the co-founders and current executive team of VOW decided to go beyond the newsletter and take up garbage re-cycling as well. VOW thought of taking it to the masses by sharing successful best practices followed in garbage re-cycling. The follow-up to this included mentoring groups that wished to continue this practice in their area of influence. That’s how the VOW – Garbage to Gold project was born. The film ‘VOW – Garbage to Gold’ is the tool used to facilitate and enable the same within Mumbai and other cities of the world which are facing similar issues.

BM: What is garbage recycling and how important is it?

Piyush: Like any fast growing urban city, Mumbai faces the critical problem of solid waste management and deforestation. We felt that both these issues were connected and result in the increase in pollution, warming of the city and lesser oxygen. We had to find a way to do away with dumping grounds and facilitate greenery by converting the wet part of solid waste into rich manure.

Currently, most cities have a solid waste management cell in their municipal corporation, which collects un-segregated waste and transports it to the dumping sites. Mumbai generates 6500 MT of solid waste per day and spends INR 1.25 crores per day to transport it to the dumping site! In Mumbai, it is now mandatory to segregate waste.

By encouraging ourselves and neighbors to have an additional waste basket in the kitchen, we could achieve the following:

  • Self employment for the underprivileged
  • Address issues of deforestation and global warming.
  • Personal satisfaction of contributing towards a clean and green environment not to mention better real estate value!

The process begins with segregation of waste at the source – kitchens and homes. Instead of one waste basket, there are two baskets. One is used for wet waste and the other for dry waste. The segregated waste then needs to be converted into rich manure for creating a green belt area/gardens around the area of participation. The sweepers and gardeners, who are underprivileged and do not have an additional source of income, gather the segregated waste.

The extra income comes from segregated dry waste that is sold in the recycle market and from surplus rich manure that the municipal corporation buys back to use for the maintenance of public gardens. The revenue from recycled waste goes to sweepers and the gardener receives the revenue from surplus manure.

The next steps are to identify a site for creating a green belt garden where the municipal corporation extends their help through their ALM (Advance Locality Management) initiative. A residential association adopts an area to build the vermin-composting pit and green belt garden. The local corporator / a corporate entity provides the one-time funds to build this structure.

Today, this project has been adopted by more than 5,000 families in Mumbai and is growing rapidly with the support of the municipal corporation, local corporators / corporates and residents / residents’ associations. This movement received appreciation and acceptance when Wangari Mathai, 2004 Nobel peace prize winner said in her award acceptance speech, “The environment is very important in the aspects of peace. When we destroy our resources, they become scarce and we fight over that. This is a long journey but results are fulfilling at a personal level as well and gives a sense of contribution to the society at large. This sense of giving without expectation is what would keep one going further.”

BM: The initiative calls for involvement with the local municipal corporations. How difficult is the process of getting them involved in your experience?

Piyush: My experience with local municipal corporation is similar to any initiative that needs time to reach the stage of critical mass. Initially the support is not very forthcoming as they themselves do not know how to handle the action expectations. However as they are oriented on the project details and once they see results taking shape, soon they pitch in considering that this may be beneficial for all.

BM: Can you tell us if the movement has gained any ground in Bangalore? Also, what are the plans for the city?

Piyush: I have just launched the awareness campaign at all 10 locations of Infosys Development Centers across India on August 9, 2006 and the response is very encouraging. We are actually launching this campaign by starting this activity with group of around 900 residents colony off Bannerghatta Road. There are many residential colonies which are approaching us through various Infosys employee volunteers.

BM: If a Bangalorean wants to get involved in the project, what will be his/her involvement? Where does he start?

Piyush: Any Banglorean can join these movements of zero garbage. All he needs to do is first understand how it works. For this a screening of the movie VOW -Garbage to gold becomes essential and subsequently he can approach the members of his residential association in order to convince them and start the activity with support of VOW.

Let’s join this movement and make it a reality in our neighborhoods, offices and public places. VOW – G2G can share its experiences and help you achieve the project that you may wish to take up.

VOW website

Other links on VOW

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