Today, Auroville was full of garbage. Literally. We kicked off the day at the dump, where we marched in our rubber boots (well, Victoria in heels!) and observed exactly how landfills operate.
We could smell the burning waste through our scarves as we conducted our own analysis of what was in the landfill and watched attentively when tractors dumped new loads of garbage. Our passionate guide, Rheibu, explained how the waste in Auroville is disposed here unorganized and not separated by material. He emphasized the importance of recycling—separating plastics, glass, and biodegradable waste—and then pointed to a woman sifting intently through the garbage.
Rheibu introduced us to Shanti, a waste picker, who sifts through the garbage in search of re-usable items such as milk packets and metals to sell for profit in the secondary market. As we learned, selling items in the secondary market can bring about 250-500 rupees a day. Unfortunately, most waste pickers don’t have a long life span because of the exposure to unknown chemicals and bacteria commonly found in garbage. At 37 years old, Shanti spoke proudly about her work and eagerly showed us the copper she had collected and the tool she uses to sift through the waste. Also a wife and mother, Shanti works nearly everyday to provide for her sick husband and children who currently attend a local school. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring to see such a young woman sift through the trash with the hopes of finding valuables. In a sustainability sense, Rheibu explained that separating trash in the households can actually help waste pickers to collect material all at once and put them back into the hands of producers. Basically, the work of waste pickers play an essential role in the sustainability cycle in Auroville.
Next, we headed to the Town Hall for a lecture on Garbology 101 from Rheibu. The emphasis here focused on educating our youth on the importance of recycling through a stimulating and interesting curriculum. Through educational games, coloring books, and student input in the curriculum, this program can set the foundation for future generations, especially during a time when energy conservation is needed the most.
Overall, aiding in the sustainability cycle comes down to one thing- YOU. The individual needs to feel the desire to change and understand why they must do it. Then, our actions and behavior to become environmentally conscious come naturally. It’s critical for everyone to separate waste accordingly so they have the potential to be re-used in the sustainability cycle. As far as Auroville is concerned, each day brings loads of new trash to the dump. Or for Shanti and the environment, hopefully treasure.
By: Melissa Lerma