I grew up being aware of the environment around me. Although we lived in Margao, a city in Goa, we often travelled to our village where we would spend hours playing in the fields. In 1999, my family moved back to the village house. That was when I noticed contrasts between city and village life and the slaughter waste and trash being dumped into the once lovely Sal river.
I was concerned and I wanted to do something. I took photographs and put them on the internet, looking for help with solutions to the problem. I attended a Goa Foundation workshop on composting in 2000 and began collecting information about the process. People from all over started sending me information for my file. Word spread and I began to be known locally as someone concerned about the environment.
At only 19 and still a student, I was looking for ways to increase my pocket money. Recycling dry waste is an excellent way to generate cash, so I took charge of the activity for my household. Segregating dry waste into paper, plastic and glass was easy, and so was the money.
Later that year, I met a team of Swedish youngsters doing an environmental project in my village. They were gathering data and needed help with its translation. Through them and as a result of my work, I received an invitation to visit Sweden in 2003 to study their recycling process. I took a break from my day job as an engineer with a local firm and went to Sweden for three months. I visited several recycling centres and composting units and came back with a lot of ideas that we could easily implement here in Goa. To share these ideas, I started Green Goa, a Yahoo group, in 2004. It is now a key resource for ideas on anything related to the environment.
One idea that I brought back from my Sweden trip was the concept of the 'sorting list' where every tiny thing was listed along with how to dispose of it. I made a similar list for Goa with the assistance of local street recyclers. I discovered that every recycler had a different rate for any given item. Depending on where you lived, an average household could earn around 100 Rupees ($2) recycling their waste each month. So that meant that, if you recycled in Goa, you got paid for it.
At that time Goa had a major garbage crisis. Waste piled up everywhere and the threat of disease loomed. I was becoming known as someone interested in waste management and although I had no formal qualifications in the field, I was invited by the local municipal commissioner to help them with the crisis by researching it and recommending solutions.
It took me five months to complete a report with photographs documenting the 50 tons of garbage that the city generated each day, along with a breakdown of the kind of waste it contained. The city of Panjim needed about 175 composting units to manage its waste. We had, at the time, barely three.
Today 10 tons of organic waste now finds its way to one of the 160 constructed compost units in the city. Panjim now has two recycling centres that handle household and hotel inorganic waste separately. Daily, 10-20 tons of waste is generated by households and is sorted manually by ragpickers at the recycling centre. This is an unusual, but effective arrangement where the ragpickers (who are not employed by the local civic body) sort the waste and pass it on to the recyclers. They keep the profits and, this way, instead of going door-to-door and having an uncertain income, the ragpickers get to work in a safe environment with an assured income at the end of the day.
I have also worked with the authorities to introduce an eight-bin recycling system in some areas. Dry waste is being picked up twice a week in local communities, often by a gardener who keeps the profits after selling the waste on to recyclers. The system is very effective, but it is still expensive. Each bin costs us 4,000 Rupees ($83) plus the signage, putting it out of reach of most people.
At the moment my priorities include putting together a hazardous waste policy in Goa to separate and dispose of electronic waste, batteries and bio-medical waste. With Goa's current garbage crisis, we need public watchdogs to ensure that these systems are followed. I'd also like to see an end to the dumping of e-waste from the West, labelled misleadingly as "unprocessed raw material".
My aim is to establish a low-cost, low-tech and sustainable waste management system that looks nice, doesn't cause problems and runs on its own. We can all do this with individual or community composting units and a recycling bin system that pays for itself when sorted out in local communities.
My dream is to see a "zero waste" Goa, and so far we are doing well. Despite our problems, Panjim now recycles almost 85% of its waste. Compare that to Europe where only about 36% of waste is recycled and saved from going into landfill, according to the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
• Clinton Vaz was interviewed by journalist Chryselle D'Silva Dias
Garbage is a major problem in Goa. However, school children of Aldona village are making a conscious environmental effort to find recyclable solutions to it. The Garbage Management Program was introduced by the Lion’s Club Aldona, which uses programs already in place in Canada and Ireland and brings them to Goa.
VV-Correspondent Sulochana Pednekar interviews Colin Mathan, a member of Lion’s Club Aldona, Goa:
“Based on a program that is in Canada and in Ireland where I’m from called the Tidy Towns competition, we took that and applied it to Aldona in a Tidy Wards competition.”
The Lion’s Club managed to get land, which was contributed, from communidadeto use as a base to collect garbage and have it segregated. However, due to the time taken to have the paperwork approved by government officials the club decided in the interim to roll out the program in four schools in Aldona village.
Recycled bins were installed in the schools, one for metal, one for plastic and one for paper. Sister Sharon, headmistress of St. Thomas Girl’s School, Aldona, explains how a points system was constructed for different teams (squads).The children are very excited and motivated by this:
“They have also made their people at home aware of segregation of all these waste material.”
A scrap collector also comes to the school and takes items for recycling for which he pays the school.
Due to the success of the program our Correspondent Sulochana Pednekar campaigns, “I feel this program model should be taken up by the village panchayats in every village, as part of garbage management program, in their respective villages, and implement this in the schools in their localities.”
You can bring similar programs to your villages, towns and cities all around the world. This is especially true of India, where garbage disposal and recycling is still in its primary stages. Help clean up India NOW!
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Sulochana Pednekar is a Community Correspondent, a maternal health researcher and a Ph.D Scholar from Siolim village of Goa. Sulo, as we lovingly call her, has worked hard against poverty, inequality and has gained education by doing odd-jobs and getting scholarships. She continues to work hard even today, to balance community work and studies, “I mostly work on weekends as I travel to the South of Goa to study on weekdays. Hence, it becomes difficult to give the community my time. Depending on the case, I try to have early morning meetings with the community.” Her inspiration is her mother,…