At a time when world leaders are backing out of climate agreements and diverting crores from the clean energy fund to tax reforms, the responsibility of conserving nature and protecting the planet has fallen on the shoulders of citizens. Many — like ecologist Dr Sultan Ahmed Ismail, who maintains a minimal wastage home, social activist Shanthi Ulhas, who is promoting source segregation in her neighbourhood and social entrepreneur Arul Priya, who promotes recyclable and eco-friendly products — have taken on the challenge gladly.
‘Simple lifestyle changes can lead to minimal wastage’
Water conserving garden at Dr Sultan Ahmed Ismail’s house
Dr Sultan Ahmed Ismail, Director of Ecoscience Research Foundation, Chennai, says on the sidelines of World Nature Conservation Day (July 28), “I was one of the pioneers to promote composting and coined the term ‘vermitech.’ So, if I didn’t follow my principles, then who would? Most think it is difficult, but simple changes in lifestyle can lead to minimal wastage. The most important step we follow is a strict policy of not wasting food. Many youngsters today think it’s fashionable to leave food on the plate and it’s saddening.
At my house, the only compost waste produced is vegetable peels and raw waste, which we compost in our compound. We recycle the plastic waste by selling it to kabbadi walas and what they don’t take, we try to upcycle into planters and other things. E-waste is also given away to recyclers. Our laundry and bath water is recycled using a very economical tank that’s lined with plants, like colocasia, which remove phosphates from the water. This is used to water the gardens. These are all simple measure everyone can implement in their house.”
‘Vacant areas under city overbridges must be utilised for compost pits’
Shanthi Ulhas, a resident of Mahalingapuram, started source segregation because of a personal dilemma. A huge garbage bin was placed in front of her house and, soon, the area was littered with waste. “I set the precedent for a cleaner practice myself by segregating the waste at my house into separate categories like compost, plastic, paper and tetra-packs and then knocking on every door in the 24 streets in my colony, asking residents to join in. Though they applauded my efforts, many were not ready to put in the work themselves because they felt it was the corporation workers’ job. But it’s slowly changing. So far, eight streets have implemented it.
We are also trying to take care of the compost as the authorities, after some of us approached them, have provided us two compost pits under the Nungambakkam overbridge. I think vacant spaces under all overbridges in the city must be utilised to build compost pits,” asserts Shanthi.
‘Without proper disposal, recyclable products too harm environment’
Arul Priya makes and sells palm plates, cloth and paper bags, paper pencils and edible spoons made from corn kernels. “I came up with the idea for the products after I realised how harmful Styrofoam plates were to the environment. I wanted to promote ecologically safe alternatives. Though, these are gaining popularity people are still reluctant to switch to eco-friendly alternatives because of cost. For certain products, like pencils, the cost difference is negligible, but for products like the palm plates, the cost is almost thrice as much as Styrofoam. I am now trying to address this concern by creating more awareness through corporates.
We collect recyclable waste from corporates and pay them for it using our products. We also educate them how without proper disposal, recyclable products too harm environment. Hopefully, the awareness will encourage employees to invest more in eco-friendly products in the future,” explains Arul.