Pavithra Venkatagopalan, a micro-biologist by training and ‘trash enthusiast’, is a typical Chennaivaasi. She went abroad to study and after graduating, returned to her beloved Chennai. Hit with the stark contrast between our nations' waste management, she found herself constantly complaining about the mounting trash strewn all over the city, and the general lack of discipline and futility of trying to ‘civilize’ people.
After setting up her own diagnostic center in 2014, she was fortunate enough to get a space in Chrompet, with seven huge trees. She did not want to cut the trees, but soon realized that at least 4- 5 kgs of leaves were being shed everyday. The local garbage man from the municipality, comes by to collect trash in a rickshaw every day. After the first couple of days, the garbage man grew impatient and refused to accept the leaves anymore, saying the volume was too much to handle. She was faced with 2 options- grease his fingers or find another solution.
She had chanced upon some literature on composting, and after exploring the topic further online, realized she could compost the mountains of leaves. However because of the nature of her work, having an open compost pit was not an option. It was at this point, that she came across the leaf composter by Daily Dump. She had it delivered and installed within a day and immediately taught her housekeeping staff how to use it. It has been 8 months since she started and she now has 3 such composters working very hard to give her fresh compost.
Having seen the reality of compost being generated from organic waste, she now turned her attention to her apartment. Again, disappointed with throwing away her food waste in black trash bags every day, she decided to make use of it to embellish her bare apartment complex.
This time she purchased the very popular Khamba, again from Daily Dump, to compost her kitchen waste at home. She set it up on her balcony and followed the steps in the guide to start the composting process. Within 45 days, she had crumbly black earth ready to add to the soil.
She shares that she did come across a hurdle when she added a lemon peel to the compost pit. Within a few days there was a foul smell and lots of black worms writhing all over the pit. Not surprisingly, her entire family was displeased, with the exception of her cat who had found new playthings in the worms. She persisted however, and research revealed that the lemon peel had upset the pH balance of the pit, resulting in rot instead of composting.
The biological process fascinated her scientific mind, and she was inspired to convert more people. Her composting has been going so well that she now gifts it to all her friends with terrace gardens. She has also gotten her parents, grand parents, uncle and friends to start composting. Despite being their agony aunt, it’s all worth it for her when she sees them harvest their first batch of compost.
Around this time of all this, she got involved with a government school in Kotturpuram through her Rotary club. The students of the Interact club had to raise money to fund their projects. They were already raising money by selling newspapers and plastic waste to the local kabadiwalla. They had some exposure to composting, but had not started it yet. Needless to say, she had to workout some cost effective options for them.
She obtained cement rings for them, and one of the students brought in his father (a mason) to set it up for them. The bins worked very well with the school leaf waste and continue to do so. A couple of enterprising students have even spoken to the local Amma Canteen and struck a deal to collect their food waste which they will compost and sell.
Pavithra truly believes that once you start composting, work out the kinks and get it right, you will never be able to throw kitchen waste into the trash again. Can one person make a difference to the garbage problem the city has? ‘I think so!’ says Pavithra. We applaud her efforts.
Pavithra will be working closely with Kabadiwalla Connect and may even conduct work shops in the future. Follow us on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KabadiwallaConnectProject and twitter @kabadiconnect to stay updated.