"I want garbology 101 to be in every school, as a compulsory subject within the next two years,” said Ribhu from Auroville, at a fascinating two-day seminar organised in Delhi a couple of weeks ago.
Garbology? Well it was obvious that it was to do with garbage, and its disposal, but did he coin the word garbology? Back at home I looked it up: “The study of the material discarded by a society to learn what it reveals about social or cultural patterns. Ah ha!
Travel anywhere in India and the problem of increasing waste is evident. A recent re-visit to the Nathula pass after it was opened to tourists was a shock. The earlier pristine snow was littered with food packets in lurid colours, gutka packages and sweet wrappers, so much so that it was difficult to realise that it was snow under foot and not mud and garbage.
The way we use and throw is slowly destroying the earth and our own health much more and faster than we realise. “Presently, we think of waste in a linear model. Something is created or offered, we buy or use it, and when we are done we get rid of whatever is left.
However, what we use generates an amazing amount of ‘unseen’ waste long before consumers touch it”, explain Ribhu.
According to a conservative estimate, each kilo of garbage that we as consumers throw out has in fact generated 40 kilos of waster through extraction, production or distribution. We throw it out and forget about it. The garbage truck throws it out somewhere in a land fill, (or in India we throw it out on the streets); but the earth doesn’t throw it into orbit!
It stays somewhere clogging up systems and nature. It is estimated that we as a country produce 5,00,000 ton of waste every day and 90% of it lands up on the street or litters our landscape causing enormous health hazards, the long-term consequences of which we seem not to care about.
Unless we quickly and successfully raise awareness about the need to segregate and carefully dispose off the waste, the amount of waste will continue growing exponentially and finally push us into the muck or off the planet – sick and dying because of its toxicity.
So what can be done? With its uniquely innovative approach, a group of young people from Auroville has developed a school programme to teach children how to deal with this and reduce the waste generated.
The programme is interactive and multi-disciplinary and is aimed at kids from ages 6 to 12. Besides a teacher’s handbook, it has innovative and multi-intelligence activities that encourage hands-on learning. There are physical activities too, like the trash relay race, and critical thinking activities such as ‘green washing’, finding out how companies b..s.. you by pretending to be green.
Perhaps this early understanding will lead them to be better citizens of a diminishing world.
At the same conference I also got to know of Virtual Water; were you thinking mirage? I was, but was completely wrong. Like in the case of what we see and what we don’t with garbage, what we see as water use and what we don’t, too is a huge issue.
Virtual water is the water used in producing a product or food or drink – something that we do not think of. So, the better amongst us try and save on drinking water and on our showers and never look at the products we buy or the foods we eat and the astronomical amounts of water that have gone into it.
Think of a kilo of beef. Then think of the water that was needed to raise the beast before it became beef.
To quench its thirst, grow the food it ate every day for several years before it was butchered. Thousands and thousands of liters. But it only produced one kilo of beef, quickly eaten as a beef burger. (I give this example but the figures are awful for lots of foods and drinks).
These two examples of how we think of things, or don’t, only goes to show that in this fast changing world, we need to reexamine what we think we know and understand constantly, to be able to feel and know that we are caring, conscious citizens of this new world.
Mallika Sarabhai is a noted danseuse and social activist.