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Reply #97


Response to Demeter (Reply #96)

Sun Jun 10, 2012, 11:17 AM

97. Not Wasting the Waste: Creating Environmental Sustainability

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/9695-not-wasting-the-waste-creating-environmental-sustainability

S. Ushakumari is a horticulturist who has been working with a public interest research organization, Thanal, for the past 22 years. Part of her life’s work is a movement which is sweeping the globe: zero waste. Instead of seeking to “manage” waste, this philosophy and campaign aim to eliminate it. Zero waste considers the entire life cycle of material objects – natural resource extraction, processing, production, transportation, consumption, and disposal – which is exhausting the planet’s resources and creating increased pollution. Zero waste re-examines consumption with an ethical, economic, and environmental eye. It starts with the humble elements of waste reduction: re-using, recycling and composting. But it goes further, requiring companies to change the way they design and manufacture goods so that they are free of toxins, and getting government to change policies and laws. Ultimately, zero waste aims to create a society that lives sustainably on a finite resource base. In the process, it strengthens local economies with jobs, reduces energy demands and thus climate change, and saves local governments money that is spent cleaning up industries’ messes.

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Zero waste came to us as an alternative to the current waste management paradigm of burning or burying, which is actually wasting the waste itself.

Tourists like to come and visit the town of Kovalam but, in the past ten to fifteen years since globalization hit, the state of Kerala has been having a problem of excessive waste. The figures showed that the tourist flow was actually going down in Kovalam because of waste. The tourism department became very concerned. They had what they thought was a good idea: burn the waste and make it disappear. Like a miracle. When we at Thanal came to know about the incineration and problems associated with it, we held a press conference as a first step to starting a campaign, which the media took up in a very positive manner. We also communicated with leaders in the community who really felt attacked by the idea of incineration, because it’s a thickly populated area. Then the tourism director at that time, who was a medical professional, had a discussion with us. He asked, “Why you are you opposing this?” We gave him all of the written documents against incineration. Then he said, “Okay. Because of the information you gave me, I stopped the project. But, now, I need to solve the problem. Can you help me out?” He said, “Come up with some ideas and we’ll support you.” Discussions with the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance gave us the idea of zero waste. We started by identifying the kind of waste that was in Kovalam. We found out that almost 70 to 80 percent of the waste could be recycled or reused.

Women in the town got inspired by the whole idea of an alternate approach to waste management, and that’s how we began. With the support of the tourism department, we started a zero waste center, which was a resource education center to do training with women, students, farmers, and policy-makers. Almost immediately, we were training up to 400 women – not very many men actually came forward – and also some local organizations who were working with street children.

Some of the women were interested in developing an enterprise. In 2004, they started the Pioneer Paper Bag Unit. They talked to hoteliers in and around Kovalam and got the hotel industry to start realizing the problems with the materials they were wasting, including newspaper. They were just dumping it in the city garbage which was, in turn, getting dumped into some corner of the city premises. Some of the hoteliers started freely giving their waste paper to the Pioneer Paper Bag Unit. The unit made paper bags to give back to the hotel, so it was like completing the cycle. They also got one-sided papers from some of the computer centers and they made notebooks. I can happily say that the unit works in an economically sustainable manner. MORE

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