Talkin' Trash

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May 8, 2010: Some of us involved in solid waste management issues in Auroville have recognized a lack of community awareness on many of these pressing topics, and so have decided to do our part by writing up a small note in the News each week with tips on how to reduce, reuse, and recycle. We encourage you to write us with your own waste tips, or with questions you may have regarding the Eco-Service or waste management in general. 

But first things first. Do you know how Eco-Service functions? It's a good place to start, as many are not aware of the happenings of this most basic municipal service: our waste collection team. Eco-Service was initiated in 1992 by Stefano, and has since undergone many reconstructions. It is currently applying to become a unit in Auroville, with four executives (Auralice, Gillian, Jayamurthy, Suryan). Jayamurthy and Gillian manage the Eco-Service, while Rajamanikum coordinates the sorting shed work. He oversees one driver, two collectors (yes, that means there are three people riding around in the Eco-Service load carrier, the necessary minimum for transferring and hauling our waste), and six ladies who sort the waste. Eco-Service is located near Kottakarai, on the road just before Verite. It is open from 8:30-12:30 and 1:30-4:30 every day except Sundays and holidays.

There's much more to say about Auroville's waste system, including where our waste actually goes, and who else is involved, but we'll continue on next week. Instead let's take pause to mention that the Eco-Service is currently looking to hire one driver. This person, preferably Aurovilian and speaking both Tamil and English, will have the responsibility of driving the load carrier throughout Auroville, interacting with Aurovilians in their communities, and keeping records of the amount and type of waste being collected. This is a full time position with a full maintenance and Solar Kitchen lunch. Interested? Please contact Jayamurthy 904-701-5812 or Gillian 944-206-7481.

Please contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, etc:
Until next week!

May 15, 2010: Where does our waste come from and where does it go? Well, it depends on what which waste we're talking about. Imagine you visit Aspiration Pour Tous for a snack. You purchase two bananas, Hide'N'Seek biscuits, and a Kombucha to wash it all down. As you go home and eat your snacks, how much do you know about their life cycle?

Let's start with the bananas. These particular bananas came from Discipline Farm, which means they only traveled a few kilometers to Pour Tous. At Discipline, they were grown organically and picked by someone who lives nearby. After you enjoyed them, you are left with two banana peels: what do you do with them? In fact, the answer is different for every Aurovilian. The one thing NOT to do with your banana peels is to throw them in your mixed waste bin. If you do, the other waste in your bin will get dirty, and will not be able to be recycled, instead attracting flies and rodents. Eco-Service does NOT collect organic waste, so each household and community decides what to do with it on its own. Many communities have composting systems, which transform banana peels, yard debris, and other organic waste into rich compost which then feeds plants or vegetables. Some people give the banana peels to their cows. Some people dig a big pit in their yard and throw the peels in. Some people use the peels for their bokashi compost system.

What do you do? Do you know what your favorite restaurant in Auroville does with its organic waste? Do you know what your place of work or school does with its organic waste?

Many in Auroville feel that this rich organic material is not being utilized, and would like to see an organized system of organic waste collection and creation of compost to give back to Auroville's farms. All this from two banana peels...

Next week we will follow the Hide-N-Seek biscuits...

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

May 29, 2010: We continue on the trail of trash...Two weeks ago we imagined that you had bought a snack (bananas, Hide'N'Seek biscuits, and a Kombucha) at Aspiration Pour Tous, and this week we're continuing to follow the lifecycle of those snacks. You decided to purchase Hide'N'Seek biscuits. These were manufactured in Bangalore, which means they traveled about 300km before reaching Auroville. After you finished eating them, what do you do with the package? If you live in one of the communities in Auroville that uses Eco-Service (only 60% of communities and units do), then you probably clean the package properly, and then throw the silvery-package into the plastics container in your waste area. From there, do you know where it goes? Eco-Service collects it along with all your other plastic waste (hopefully segregated). Then six ladies at Eco-Service sort through the plastic waste, and separate the recyclable plastic from non-recyclable. Unfortunately, your Hide'N'Seek biscuit packaging is non-recyclable. You can tell because of its nice color-prints on one side and the foil on the other side. Whenever plastic is printed and/or mixed with foil it becomes non-recyclable. Auroville's major source of non-recyclables are biscuit wrappers and chip packets.

All these are destined for the Auroville landfill, which is essentially a series of massive, unlined holes dug in the ground behind AuroAnnam Farm. And yes, that is where your Hide'N'Seek biscuit package ends up. Right there, in the ground, next to some Lays chips packages, covered up by a little soil. Slightly depressing, isn't it?

The good news is that there are a lot of other options in Auroville. Instead of choosing a conventional commercial biscuit brand you could have bought biscuits produced in Auroville and wrapped in transparent recyclable plastic (sells for about Rs 15/kg) or even smarter – bought biscuits in bulk from New Pour Tous.

Next week we follow your Kombucha bottle...

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

June 5, 2010: The trash trail continues on this week, as we recall a few weeks ago your imaginary snack purchases of bananas, Hide'N'Seek biscuits, and a Kombucha to wash in all down. Ah...Kombucha! Such a refreshing drink on a warm summer day. This particular Kombucha was produced at KOFPU, which means it only traveled a few kilometers to reach Pour Tous (although the plastic bottle came from Koot Road). After enjoying your drink, what do you do with the empty bottle? Again, if you live in a community that uses Eco-Service, you rinse out your bottle and put it in the plastics bins in your community's waste area. Eco-Service collects it. But this time, your piece of waste is not destined for the landfill. Why? Because it's recyclable! And because it's recyclable, Eco-Service is able to sell it to one of the local dealers in the region for about 1-2 rupees per bottle. (In fact, since this plastic bottle consists of so-called PET plastic, it will be able to undergo the recycling process about three times.) The money received for the bottle (along with all the other recyclables) helps to pay for the costs of Eco-Service itself (though at this point, they cannot sustain themselves on it).

Eco-Service, though a basic municipal service for the township of Auroville, is not supported by the city except through one maintenance. Eco-Service depends entirely on the money it collects from recyclables and user fees to sustain itself, which includes wages for all of its workers, petrol costs, and infrastructure.

So when you choose to recycle your plastic bottle through Eco-Service, what you are actually doing is contributing to the upkeep of Eco-Service itself.

Now that we have concluded with your hypothetical snack situation, you can see that each of the pieces of trash you generated has a story. In fact, every piece of waste has a story – from when, where, and how it was manufactured to when and where it ends up. The more we become conscious of these stories, the more we are able to make smart decisions about what we purchase, consume, and throw away.

Next week will be continue on with Talkin' Trash, including helpful tips that will help you reduce, reuse, and recycle. In the meantime, we've put some really valuable information on waste, including how to set up a proper waste segregation system in your community, on the Aurowiki site:
It's worthwhile.

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

June 12, 2010: In last week's News and Notes, you might have seen a thank you note from Eco-Service to Bobby, who graciously gifted the Eco-Service sorting area with a water connection. We received some feedback from this note, so perhaps it deserves a bit of elaboration. It's true – the Eco-Service didn't have a water connection until recently. This means that six ladies, two waste collectors, one driver and one manager – those people who work everyday at this site, collecting and sorting Aurovilians' waste – have had no running water with which to wash their hands until now. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is still no toilet facility. There is no electrical connection. It needs another load carrier. And the keet roof of the sorting shed in which the ladies work actually leaks in the monsoon, and needs to be replaced.

All of this is compounded by the fact that Eco-Service is supported very minimally and insufficiently by City Services. (It receives 1.5 maintenances and Rs 1000/month. Compare this to many cities which dedicate up to 30% of their municipal budget to solid waste!) Eco-Service therefore does not have money to improve its basic infrastructure. And without basic infrastructure, it cannot collect 100% of Auroville's waste. Currently, it only collects 60% of Auroville's waste, which means that the other 40% is unaccounted for, and usually ends up in canyons, wild dump sites, or is being burned.

All of this is to say that while Bobby's gift was an essential and much-appreciated first step toward improving the Eco-Service, several important elements need to change about Eco-Service before we can ensure that all of Auroville's waste is being handled properly.

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

June 19, 2010: Did you happen to read last week's Solid Waste Management Task Force meeting notes? If so, you might have noticed a disturbing fact: “The Eco-Service reported that in the past 6 months, 5kgs of disposed syringes and needles were found in Auroville's waste.” Whoa! Think about this for a moment. Five kilos!! This means that when the staff at Eco-Service sorts Auroville's waste, they are exposed to these needles with the very real potential to be poked. This is absolutely unacceptable, wouldn't you agree?

Auroville, please take note. Syringes and their needles fall into a category of waste called “Biomedical Waste”, which is generally defined as “waste which is sufficiently capable of causing infection during handling and disposal”. So what? Well, this means that if you throw a used syringe into a mixed waste bin, it can make the people who handle your disposals seriously ill. The syringe is especially dangerous, as it can puncture gloves and access the blood stream. But other items pose a threat as well, such as razors, bandaids, and medicines (including creams or pills).

The good news is that Auroville has access to safely dispose of all medical waste items. We have an incinerator that properly burns pathological waste (soiled cotton, gauze, bandaids and cloth) under very high temperatures and under certain conditions which prevent the forming of hazardous gases.

So how can you do your part to properly handle your medical waste? The proper thing to do is to keep it in a container at your house, and when full, take it in a bag to the Health Center in Aspiration. The Health Service collects medical waste every Wednesday morning. Just ask at the reception where to put it. The staff there has been trained on how to handle this waste, and it will most likely head to the incinerator there.

It's a little extra effort on your part to help us to ensure that all Biomedical Waste is treated properly, and not exposing anyone to undue risk of infection.

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

June 26, 2010: Last week we talked about biomedical waste. Remember? Well, it's time to clarify this topic even further.

As mentioned last week, there are various categories of biomedical waste. The following two categories can be brought to the Health Center for safe disposal. The first is pathological waste, which includes any soiled cotton, bandaids, gauze or cloth. This category of waste is disposed of through incineration. The second is expired or left-over medicines, only including pills. This category of waste will either be used by someone else (if it is not expired) or returned to the manufacturer, or stored and eventually placed in a secure deep pit burial.

When you bring your biomedical waste to the Health Center (only on Wednesday mornings) please make sure that the pathological waste is placed in a sealed plastic bag. You can ask at the reception where to place the above categories of waste.

Unfortunately, the Health Center is unable to accept other categories of biomedical waste. If you have any categories of biomedical waste than the two mentioned above, please store them for the time being in a secure, puncture-proof container until a safe and environmentally-friendly solution has been found to treat and dispose of it.

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste

Solid Waste Management Task Force

July 3, 2010: A big welcome back to those of you who went out this summer! You missed some really great weather, but also the launch of these weekly notes on solid waste, called “Talkin' Trash”. The good news is that it's really easy to jump in, just follow along...

If you do not yet use Eco-Service, or use Eco-Service but do not yet have a proper waste segregation system, this week's column is for you. The message is simple: the time is now to start managing your waste in an environmentally responsible way. Here are the top five reasons to sign up with Eco-Service and to set up a waste segregation system in your household, community or unit today:

1) School is starting! A new school year means new beginnings, so why not start with something positive for your community by setting up a waste system? (Besides which, it sets a good example for your kids.)

2) Right now, Colors of Nature is selling 200 liter second-hand plastic barrels for Rs 700. A few of these bins make a great start to a waste segregation system! And they have 30 of them that they want to sell, so lots of communities can benefit. Besides, it's much easier transporting these barrels from Colors of Nature than from Pondi, plus you'll be supporting an Auroville unit.

3) All of the information you need to know about setting up a waste segregation system, including waste labels that you can print out (in English and Tamil with a photograph), can now be found on AuroWiki at:

4) Once you have set up your system, Eco-Service is ready to provide a training for your community members and workers (in English and in Tamil) on why it is important to segregate waste and how to do it properly. All you have to do is contact them by emailing:

5) And last but not least, ensuring that your solid waste is handled properly by Eco-Service is the right thing to do for the planet. If you give your waste to outside collectors, there is no telling where it will end up – though usually it is obvious: on roadsides, in canyons, or wafting through your home in the form of toxic smoke from burned garbage piles.

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste

Solid Waste Management Task Force

July 10, 2010: Have you ever thought about the connection between consciousness and waste? At least one Aurovilian has. For this reason, he is our guest speaker in this week's Talkin' Trash. In his words:

“Integral yoga, doing Mother's work, building the City the Earth needs: use any language you wish to justify or celebrate your life in Auroville, but one this is sure – you can't leave out the waste factor. Rooted in the foundations and ideals of Auroville is the reality that matter is sacred, spiritual, and infused with a certain consciousness. In reality of course, there is actually no 'waste' except as a cultural and linguistic denial that everything is interconnected. What is discarded, broken, not wanted and all the rest is still 'something' that fits and must be respected in the nature of things. It can no longer be avoided, neglected or thrown away as has been the practice in the past, even by certain yogis. There is an inescapable global garbage crisis. Isn't it time for all to become aware that all excrement is valuable, even if you don't use a compost toilet yet?

As we profess conscious living in Auroville, each one must take personal responsibility for what they use, and for our community's environment. Most usually aspire to cleanliness, order and hygiene, but 'waste management' must be included in that aspiration if one is doing any sort of integral yoga. What's under the kitchen sink, what's in the dust bin, in the waste basket, in the garbage pail, and what's flushed in the bathroom cannot remain in the subconscient, or for someone else to take care of. As practicing earth stewards, as Aurovilians, we organize together to take care of all we do – including the leftovers.”

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

July 17, 2010: It's time now to discover some people involved in the wonderful world of waste.

Meet Auroananda. He's a 16-year-old Aurovilian who lives in Prayatna and attends New Era Secondary School. For the past two years, Anand (as he's known to his friends) has been working on waste issues in his community. This summer, he noticed that Prayatna's waste was ending up all around the waste barrels instead of inside of them. He decided to take action. He called together several kids in his community and shared the situation with them. Within a few hours, the group had swept out the entire waste area and painted categories on all the barrels. They also took the opportunity to do a spontaneous litter pick-up throughout their community.

But Anand didn't stop there. He called Rajamani at Eco-Service and requested that he give a presentation to Prayatna members on proper waste segregation. The kids bought snacks and tea, and hosted a community-wide meeting on waste. Anand also worked to increase the fines to those who don't segregate properly.

Anand gets teased by people close to him, who ask why he wastes his time on issues of waste. Although he is discouraged at times, he remains motivated by his commitment to, in his own words: “doing not only what is good for you, but what is good for others”. He is also encouraged by Rajamani at Eco-Service, who has been supportive in his ongoing efforts.

Keep up the good work, Anand!!

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

July 24, 2010: 
Meet Lea. She is a 20-year-old volunteer on the Weltwaerts program who is just wrapping up one year of volunteer service in Auroville. Lea was caught up in the enthusiasm and energy of the Litter Free Auroville (LFA) campaign, and dedicated most of her time last autumn to LFA. She worked on the Exhibition Team, gathering information and creating posters and games on waste.

But she didn't stop there. “There was so much energy to the LFA movement,” she says, “that when it was over, I felt like I wanted to keep going”. And so she did. Lea had the idea to take the information collected on waste and come up with a more interactive way to get the information across to children. She looked over the posters, extracted the relevant information, and connected with Shankar at Aikiyam School, where she gave her first classes on waste education. The curriculum tries to break down the prevalent idea that “plastic is bad,” and tries to help students understand the advantages and disadvantages of different materials. She says, “I want to enable the students to make confident and conscious choices regarding the use of plastic”.

Lea is now teaching her waste curriculum at Udavi School in the final days before she heads back to Germany. She has also compiled all of the information into hard and soft copies, so that it can be replicated in the future. She's given copies to Udavi, Botanical Gardens, Pitchandikulam, New Era Secondary School, Thamarai, Village Action, and more, and she wants to give it out to anyone who will find it useful.

In Lea's own words: “Getting involved with waste is anything but dirty work. In fact it is fascinating because you get a much deeper understanding of your own interaction with the environment.”

Lea's efforts in environmental education have been tireless, sensitive, and filled with a contagious enthusiasm. Thank you, Lea, for all of your hard work in waste!

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

July 31, 2010:

Here at waste headquarters, we received an inquiry about how to properly dispose of sanitary waste. An excellent question! First, what is sanitary waste? Sanitary waste includes SANITARY NAPKINS, DIAPERS, TAMPONS, CONDOMS, USED TOILET PAPER, DENTAL FLOSS AND EARBUDS. How should these be disposed of? Well, in the ideal situation, some of these items could be burned in the incinerator at the Health Center. However, most are too wet to incinerate, and besides which, it would be a big job for the incinerator at Auroville's Health Center to dry and burn all of these items for the entire township. So DO NOT take your sanitary waste to the Health Center! 

So how should you properly dispose of these items? Eco-Service recommends giving it to Eco-Service through your Sanitary Waste bin. (Please note that you will be charged additionally for this type of waste.) The important thing to remember here is that it should not be loose waste in a bin or mixed with any other type of waste. Sanitary waste has to be kept separate and enclosed in a plastic or paper bag that then goes into the well-labeled “Sanitary Waste” bin which is lined with a black plastic bag. (These black plastic bags can be purchased at Aspiration Pour Tous.) It should be easy for the Eco-Service collectors to simply pull the black plastic bag out of the Sanitary Waste bin and load it in their truck. No one at Eco-Service is going to sort through this waste; it will simply go straight to the landfill.
Please do not burn or bury your sanitary waste as this is dangerous to the environment and may also lead to the spread of diseases. By sending it to Eco-Service in a black plastic bag, you will be disposing of it in the safest way possible.
One more note. There is also a way to eliminate a lot of these items altogether, such as by choosing cloth diapers or using handkerchiefs for nose-blowing. You can eliminate sanitary napkins and tampons by using the Cup. This is an alternative to using sanitary napkins or tampons, is hygienic, and is now available in Auroville. Catherine (Lumiere) is coordinating the sale of these in Auroville. Her email is:

We encourage you to contact us with any concerns, feedback, comments, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

August 7, 2010: Alright, Auroville – we need to talk. The good folks at Eco-Service are constantly confronted with the same dilemma week after week, and it needs to be addressed: there is a large amount of tissue paper mixed in with Aurovilian's paper waste. Not only tissue, but they also receive greasy bakery paper and butter paper in the paper waste too. Auroville – listen closely! This paper is different from other paper because it is not clean. Because it is not clean, it is not easily recycled. Not only that, but it dirties the clean paper in the bin, making that paper difficult to recycle too. And it attracts ants and rodents to the sorting shed at Eco-Service.

So, what should you do with these types of paper? Compost them! Throw them in your kitchen waste compost and watch them break down before your very eyes. And you don't only have to throw tissue paper and food-stained papers in your compost. Some people even rip up their pizza boxes and add a nice layer of cardboard to their compost pile. We even know of one waste-connoisseur who takes the extra step to sprinkle a little EM over this paper waste that has food on it, and adds this to his compost.

Paying close attention to your paper waste that has food stains on it will save Eco-Service a lot of time and hassle in separation. It's yet another step you can take to increase your own waste consciousness.

We encourage you to contact us with any feedback, inquiries, or your own waste tips:

Solid Waste Management Task Force

August 14, 2010:  A couple of weeks ago in Talkin' Trash we discussed sanitary waste and how to properly dispose of it. We also mentioned some alternative products to use so as to eliminate womens' menstrual sanitary waste altogether, such the menstrual cup instead of tampons or sanitary napkins. After that Talkin' Trash, one Aurovilian wrote in with a helpful hint about another alternative: Eco-Femme. This is a cloth sanitary napkin produced right here in Auroville (so you'll be supporting an Auroville unit and helping the environment because the product doesn't have to travel far to get to your home). As it is made of cloth, is is washable, and thus re-usable. These can be purchased in both Aspiration PT and PTDC, and an organic cotton option will soon be available. As different women have different preferences, this may be right for you! 

We here at Talkin' Trash are not only glad to learn more about Eco-Femme, but we're really glad to hear from Aurovilians about alternatives to standard products that produce waste. We don't want to promote only one alternative – we want to share with you as many as we can, so that you can make intelligent decisions about what to buy. So please continue to communicate with us - your tips, questions, concerns about waste - and we can learn from each other! Let's keep the waste dialogue going... 

We (really do) encourage you to contact us with any feedback, inquiries, or your own waste tips: