SAIIER 2016:Research in Education for Sustainable Waste Management

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Orientation to Auroville workshop
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Scenes from Sri Aurobindo's Savitri
Research in Education for Sustainable Waste Management


In our bioregion and in India as a whole there is increasing evidence of a need for improved waste management. The way we use and discard items is quickly destroying the earth and damaging our health more than most people realise. Unfortunately, change to the way waste is managed in India is very slow and the quantity of waste generated each day is increasing, compounding this problem.

The aim of this research project was to explore innovative ways to introduce education for sustainable management in school curricula, thereby planting the seed for improved waste management systems in the future leaders of India. WasteLess (the team of Maya M., Kaya S., Ribhu and Chandrah), working together with both Auroville and Outreach schools through the Teachers' Center at SAIIER, aimed to research, develop and test 10 hands-on practical activities targeting solid waste management based on the existing Garbology educational activities. These activities were to be the result of a high participatory input from the teachers, through conversations on integral education and brainstorming sessions, with particular focus on integrating the activities into their class curriculum. These activities are to be made available in both Tamil and English and shared via hardcopy and online for wider use across the country.

Description of project

We found the existing Garbology material developed by WasteLess, although broad in content, has not been widely implemented in the Auroville and Outreach schools. The quantity of research, sheer number of activities created and the manner in which activities are organised, discouraged teachers from picking up the materials easily. The activities also require quite some preparation from teachers. The outreach schools found concepts which link to pollution, climate change, and consumption quite complex especially as the entire curriculum is written in English. The teachers we spoke to are very interested in incorporating education on sustainable waste management into their class schedules, however they requested support in training, simplified materials and more hands on assistance from the WasteLess team. Working with Auroville and its outreach schools through the Teachers' Center, WasteLess researched and developed 10 hands-on practical activities based on the existing Garbology activities, and tested these in both Auroville and Outreach schools. We aimed at a high participatory approach, involving teachers in feedback and brainstorming sessions as well as in conducting the activities.

The research project consisted of an introduction & participatory planning phase, activity development & testing period, and final evaluation, report & sharing phase.

Introduction & participatory planning phase

This phase of the project involved 2 interactive sessions with teachers at the Teachers' Center. The project was introduced during a ‘Conversation on Integral Education’ session. Interested teachers were invited to share their ideas on how the project activity phases could be planned. Details such as how to effectively contact and involve teachers in the project, the ideal duration of the activities, the level of support required from teachers, the methods of providing feedback, the criteria in developing the materials and which aspects of waste to target were discussed. The methods used for this phase included creative brainstorming sessions and open discussions with the interested teachers during these interactive sessions. Using this valuable information and feedback, WasteLess then held several internal team discussions to analyse the main findings and recommendations that could be used to adapt the current Garbology activities and adjust the approach for developing new activities.

First “Conversation on Integral Education” session: August 4th 2015

14 teachers as well as individuals interested in education for sustainable waste management attended this interactive session on education for a sustainable future. A presentation was given on ‘Education for a Sustainable Future’, covering the issues surrounding waste and its management, the WasteLess approach, and the different educational materials & games we have developed at WasteLess. We then focused on the new SAIIER research project to introduce education on waste in Auroville & outreach schools. The idea was to have a participatory approach, working together with teachers in testing the activities, getting feedback and adapting the activities and tracking social impact of these activities. The floor was opened to questions and discussion, which brought about different ideas.

The outcome of this first session highlighted the general concern about the waste situation in the surrounding villages and a need to work on improving waste management and have an effective and regular waste collection and processing service. This need ties in closely with the TDC’s Regional Development Plan in solid waste management, the initiatives from the Eco Service and the wider Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiative nation wide.

We noticed that the majority of people who attended wanted us to focus on systems intervention and waste collection. This further strengthened the importance of our focus – not only dealing with the problem once it is created, i.e. waste collection and cleanups, but rather placing emphasis on dealing with the sources of the problem; understanding systems, conscious consumerism, composting, separating valuable materials and selling them to a scrap dealer, and overall reducing the production of waste. This is part of WasteLess’ underlying values of closing the tap on waste (reducing waste) rather than mopping up (collection systems, waste clean ups).

The concerns raised during this meeting emphasised our interest in focusing on the future generation. Adults generally tend to look towards solving the issue once it is created; children, however, become readily inspired to make the changes themselves and at their home to stop the problem before it is created. It is clear that one single person or single organisation such as WasteLess cannot solve the problem of waste; but instead there is a need for the whole population to value a better service and want to bring about the change. Building the value for proper systems in a democracy is the best long-term solution. That is why we are focusing on children in education. We want them to look at waste from different angles – consumerism, natural resources, systems, as well as production. We hope that then the solutions will be more sustainable. It also became very clear from the meeting that we needed a follow up session to find out not only about the problems around waste, but what topics under the broader waste category teachers wanted to focus on, and how we could best contact and interact with teachers to get more of them involved in this project.

Second “Conversation on Integral Education” session: October 10th 2015

10 teachers from Auroville and Outreach schools attended the second session on education for sustainable waste management. A short introduction was given to teachers, followed by two brainstorming sessions. The first brainstorming session’s aim was to find out what topics teachers were interested in focusing on when it comes to solid waste management into their curricula. The main key areas of interest from teachers included a large variety ranging from learning about different plastics, packaging, waste generation, where does waste go, lifecycle of products, recycling techniques, what can students do, what happens if we don’t manage waste, Eco Service hands-on experience, to following the whole process from waste generation to disposal, history of consumerism, and what options/alternatives are there. These broader areas of interest guided our selection of activities that we then tested in the different schools.

The second brainstorming session focused on how we could involve more teachers in this project. Teacher’s participation and involvement was key for this project, as ultimately the aim was to develop activities that were teacher friendly and easy to use so that they are implemented more widely in school curricula. This session highlighted the teachers’ need for more assistance from the WasteLess team in the schools. Having one teacher in each school as the main anchor point or contact point between WasteLess and the schools could be useful to facilitate regular feedback from teachers to WasteLess. It was also stated that the different activities should match the passion/subjects of the different teachers, therefore having a wider range of activities that can fit in a variety of subjects is important. They also felt that in the future having one day in the school calendar dedicated to Solid Waste Management, or implementing Garbology classes within the school curriculum would be effective. For ways of contacting teachers, holding group sessions would be the best way to contact teachers, generally after school hours on weekends as teachers have busy schedules. The session ended with a summary of the next steps for developing this project and the teachers were asked to share this project with other teachers who they think might be interested.

Activity development & testing phase

The activity development and testing phase of the project took place from January to March 2016, matching the Auroville schools’ calendar. Following the two interactive sessions, interested teachers were contacted to test specific activities within their school curricula. 10 key activities were selected based on their interests, with the aim to test each activity in as wide a range of ages and schools as possible to get the most concrete and relevant feedback. The following schools and grades took part in this activity development and testing phase of the activities:

In this phase each individual activity was developed, presented, tested, and conducted by interested teachers with the assistance of WasteLess, and feedback collected. WasteLess’ role throughout was to provide assistance in conducting the lessons, monitoring, and gathering feedback from teachers, students, and members of the team. The research was conducted and tested based on 'agile development' or the Japanese KanBan system. In this method, the approach for each activity remains flexible and can be adjusted. Based on all the feedback received changes to the activity were made.

The aim was to make materials more teacher and student friendly, at the appropriate level for varying age groups and schools, and to improve the effectiveness and attractiveness of the materials in conveying information. Focus on learning and continuous improvement for each activity was adopted so that the materials created, tested, and produced matched the requirements of teachers. WasteLess collected data by means of classroom observations and direct feedback from teachers at the end of each activity lesson. The main criteria looked at during classroom observations included level of language, vocabulary, format and layout, length and duration of the activity, teaching style, classroom dynamics such as number of students, as well as the level and depth of the content. This information helped us to adjust the approach, evaluate the success of each activity developed and identify areas needing improvement.

Final evaluation, report & sharing phase

Following the testing of activities in classes, WasteLess had several internal team discussions to analyse and incorporate the feedback. During the month of March till April, the main feedback and recommendations were integrated into the 10 activities. This involved a period of content development and modifications, designing illustrations, developing the layout and design, and proofreading and translation of the activities into Tamil. The activities are in the process of development and will be available by end of May. The sharing with all Auroville and Outreach schools, the Teachers' Center, online (in the Education Portal and WasteLess website) along with hard copies will take place in June and July 2016. Interested members in our network of schools and NGO’s involved in sustainable waste management will be sent the materials in hard and soft copy. Please see attached two sample activities that have been developed, ‘Introduction to solid waste’ and ‘How long does trash last?’


One major outcome of this project was the development of the following 10 activities on sustainable waste management in English and Tamil. The final versions will be developed by end of May 2016.

Ten educational Garbology activities:

1. Introduction to Solid Waste – the first interactive lesson in Garbology introducing the topic of waste to students. This is a synthesis of the most important aspects of waste management from our extensive Garbology theme introduction chapters and is suitable for all educational approaches.
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2. How Long Does Trash Last? – learn about the different disposal methods of waste and how long it takes different materials to break down in a landfill.
2016 Wasteless How Long Does Trash Last icon.jpg  2016 Wasteless How Long Does Trash Last handout icon.jpg  2016 Wasteless How Long Does Trash Last teacher teachersheet icon.jpg
3. Map my Soft Drink – learn how you get your favourite soft drink and understand how the way it is packed has an impact on waste, use of natural resources and pollution.
4. Waste Relay Race – compete with your classmates to separate waste as fast as possible and learn that separating your waste in the correct bin means more waste can be recycled.
5. Garbology Nidra – imagine an ideal world without waste while diving into deep meditation practicing an interestingly adapted Awareness Through the Body activity.
6. Spot the Batteries – spot the batteries and colour in the drawing so you can learn how to save the environment from pollution.
7. Less Packaging – put your skills to test and find out more about different food items and their packaging.
8. Timeline of Stuff – explore the history and some interesting facts and use your creativity to create your timeline to understand how organic matter, paper, glass, metal and plastic have taken such an important place in our lives.
9. Follow the Bottle – follow the story of the plastic bottle and find out how it travels and what happens to it once you have finished using it.
10. Litter Clean Up – become active and clean up a littered area around your school. Be the change you want to see and inspire other students in your school.

In addition to the activities, we aimed for the 2 interactive sessions held at the Teachers' Center to have inspired teachers to use the materials in their schools and to provide us with continuous feedback. The Teachers' Center has benefited from new materials on sustainable waste management.

The direct beneficiaries of this project will be the teachers and students from Auroville and Outreach schools that participated in the project. Having conducted the research in two Auroville schools and one Outreach school has directly impacted 90 students, and 8 teachers. Once the activities are shared with our network it could potentially reach over 20,000 students who already use Garbology 101. Students have gained valuable knowledge and hands-on practice to better understand how we think, make, and dispose of our waste and have become empowered to bring about systemic changes in both their school and home environment.

In addition to the students and teachers benefiting, WasteLess as an organisation developing educational materials, has gained valuable insight into creating educational materials, which are tailored to the needs of teachers and students alike.

Indirect beneficiaries include the waste management services in Auroville and the TDC’s Regional Development Plan in solid waste management in six of our surrounding villages. Education has enhanced the value of these services and motivated participation in source separation, recycling and composting. Since the writing of this project proposal, the TDC project has encountered numerous setbacks. The service provided by the Panchayat, source separation, and household participation are the major bottlenecks to the success of the project. The educational activities help to ‘build demand’ for improved systems and to encourage participation. It’s a long-term approach to the solution and regular interaction with all schools is important.


The most valuable aspect of this project was visibly seeing how the interactive learning environment inspired change in the way students think about, make, and dispose of their waste. The students’ interest and enthusiasm in the subject of solid waste management was clearly evident throughout the testing period. After each session, students’ feedback showed how they wanted to bring about change. In addition, the participatory approach used throughout the project development phase was particularly useful in supporting teachers as it allowed us to tailor the activities specifically to their needs.

Both students and teachers were very enthusiastic about members of the WasteLess team conducting lessons. The presence of new faces and content experts excited the students and made this experience rewarding. The fact that hands-on assistance was provided to teachers and tailored to their needs enabled them to feel more comfortable with the materials and new subject matter. This was a valuable lesson as we had started the project with the intent to conduct fewer lessons. The impact of our presence in the schools was very positive and each teacher we worked with requested us to continue this work with regular engagement.

A difficulty faced by us was to fit the testing period of the activities in the school calendar (taking into account school holidays, and varying term dates). Outreach schools have different holidays from Auroville schools; we were able to test fewer activities and only one Outreach school had time. Ideally, scheduling activities at the start of the term, or planning in advance for the following term would have been useful for both the teachers and us. Teachers generally plan their programme for the term well in advance. Early scheduling would eliminate issues of finding time later on in an already full schedule, and would enable us to target more schools.

The SAIIER request for proposals, the exact time when funding is released and the necessary time gap between project approval and the start of a project can be challenging. Especially considering that GOI funding must be spent before the end of the financial year, which does not match the academic calendar. In the future, this will be taken into consideration through better planning.

Our team, the students and the teachers were excited by this research project. The subject is new and the global challenges in waste management are only increasing. The research conducted to create these activities is completely new and it is incredibly motivating to test this new form of education for social impact in Auroville with its diverse educational approaches. We enjoyed this project immensely and we would like to focus more of our time to further explore, research and share our findings. In the future, we would like to dedicate more team members to this project. We would very much like to continue this project, to further test the existing activities as well as new activities, thereby making Garbology a key subject within the school curricula.


We see education in sustainable waste management as a very important topic to teach children, because they are the future generation who will inherit this planet.

We would like to continue this project next year, with the aim to spread to a wider group of students, including more outreach schools as well as targeting all the Auroville schools. Teachers have requested for Garbology to be scheduled as a regular class in their yearly curriculum and we feel it is a necessary education for children. In order for us to cover all the schools and provide hands-on assistance as well as research and documentation, we will need to dedicate more members of the team to this work.

The waste that is produced in India is increasing every day and it is having consequences on the environment and our health. Increasing education will empower people to demand massive improvements in waste collection and disposal services. Most importantly, successfully raising awareness will have the biggest impact on reducing the exponential growth of waste production. Children are becoming the biggest consumers of tomorrow and they will inherit the mess we are creating today. Children are curious and have a close connection to nature and their direct environment. This relationship offers hope and opportunity. If provided with the knowledge, tools, and skills, our next generation will feel empowered and able to make better-informed decisions, which in turn will have a positive and tangible effect on the future.