THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Her day at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) starts at 8 am. Prabha trudges along the length and breadth of the ten-acre campus, collecting sorted waste from the staff quarters and the hostels, further sorting the degradables into what can digested in the biogas unit and what cannot be and finally dumping the degradable and the plastic waste into two old unused pits on the campus.
By the time Prabha takes the protective mask and gloves off, the CDS campus will be spic- and-span. This, when the rest of the city, including the Technopark campus, is all dirty and stinking with not just the rotting waste but also the suffocating stench of burning plastic.
CDS director Pulepra Balakrishnan said this did not come easy. "Believe me, we have worked very hard for it. Many persons on this campus worked very hard for it. But we still have a problem with plastic management. The state has to find a centralised solution to plastic waste,’’ he said.
One of the many who strived for a clean and green campus is faculty member J Devika, who said that many years ago when she mooted the idea of a ‘Green Campus’ policy, there were many who wrote her off as an environmental crank.
"Those were the days when people on this campus had this idea that the greenery was the root cause for all things evil, from mosquitoes to snakes. So, when the frequency of snake visits to the boys hostels increased, we decided to investigate the matter,’’ recalled Devika.
Shibu, programme director of the city-based Green organisation Thanal, conducted a waste audit for the CDS to find out what were the types of waste and to decide on the type of intervention needed. They found waste piled beneath each tree on the campus and as Shibu recalled, "They were burning all sorts of waste, from leaf litter to plastic near these trees.’’
The puzzle of snakes coming just to visit the boys hostel and not the girls hostel was solved when they found the maximum food waste near the boys hostel, where biscuit packets and food leftovers were found thrown to the ground from windows. "The scent of these biscuit packs and food waste attracted rats and snakes just followed. It had absolutely nothing to do with the greenery and we decided that we simply had to do something about managing waste,’’ remembered Devika.
The then director D R Narayanan Nair was convinced of the need for a biogas unit that was soon set up just behind the kitchen. "But basically we had to inculcate in the students the need to use waste bins and not just litter the campus. Now with the institute gearing up for post-graduate courses, we are thinking of giving an ecological orientation to freshers just as we give gender orientation on how to interact with each other as adults,’’ said Devika.
With years of effort, the campus and its occupants, including the visiting population, have now learned to look for those little green boxes kept all around the green campus before they throw anything to the ground. The boxes are emptied twice a week by Prabha, after clearing the wastes in 28 houses and hostels.
While the Indian Medical Association says that decentralised waste management is not scientific, CDS has had no problems, or has much lesser problems now that they have learned to manage their own waste.