If recycling launched the environmental conscience of a generation in the 70s, perhaps upcycling can launch the next. From TerraCycle‘s incredible model of reclaiming waste and turning it into beautiful products to waste paper bead necklaces being made in Kenya and Nigeria, from Haathi Chaap making poo paper from elephant, camel and rhino dung to the newspaper bags, earrings, and paper baskets being woven and folded in India, the beauty of upcycling is self-evident. In India, organizations like Conserve, Thunk and Green the Gap are creating art from value-less waste, including plastic bags, Mother Dairy milk packets, and poly-al chip packages.
While innovative, upcycling is not new. The idea of “kabaad se jugaad” (making good from waste, or best out of waste, depending on how you translate it) is common practice in India. Whether making roofs from tarps or vinyl advertisements or turning every piece of valuable waste into a recycling commodity with every street’s kabaadi-wallahs (waste collectors, recyclables’ purchasers), India has long known how to convert waste into gold.
Composting, making khadh, is common in villages, where all waste is biodegradable, or at least, until a few years ago (or a few months from now). The process of plastic integration into these communities is not a question of if it will enter but when it will enter (sadly), and waste can no longer be managed in khadh piles in village corners. Yet, kabaad se jugaad can still apply for food waste – if we open our eyes to the value in every banana peel. The organizations that are looking into urban and rural composting and biogas generation from food waste are actively attempting to transform the perception that food scraps are waste into the understanding that these scraps are just raw compost!
Last Sunday, in the center of urban consumerism in Delhi, Khan Market, Manzil launched its composting system. With a street play in Hindi, bollywood songs with compost-focused rewritten lyrics, and great dancing, the compost party was the first step to young people feeling that waste was something to be discussed, even celebrated. Using Daily Dump units, Manzil has begun a small step towards sustainability for the market — one we’re working towards replicating on a much larger scale.
But why share it on IGHIH, a climate blog? Because every kilo of food waste composted is one kilo not transported for 15 kilometers to the landfill. It’s one kilo that doesn’t decompose creating methane emissions. And it’s one kilo that creates organic fertilizer to replace energy intensive and environmentally damaging chemical fertilizers.
And, most importantly, it’s one kilo of change. Change is addictive. Waste is a way for us to transform communities that allows them to see ways to change the even more challenging problems: of energy resources, of water recycling, and of our consumption patterns.
Plus, it’s one step closer to us living kabaad se jugaad — to take the wastes we are given and to turn it into value — whether an inherited energy system, governmental failures to regulate industry, or physical “wastes” and find a way to create transformation. Are you ready? Kabaad se Jugaad.