Ram is currently studying in Sishya (located in Adyar) and he is a 11th grade student, who is passionate about waste management and his surrounding environment.
How did he get into waste management?
It all started for Ram when he was in 8th grade when he joined the school’s environmental club, that was compulsory for all 8th graders to be a part of. As a member of the club, himself and his team were in-charge of ensuring the waste from their yearly fete carnival all ended up in the bin.
Ram said it was common to have the fields littered with waste as the carnival came to a close. The field was littered with so much waste that it made it impossible to play football, because as Ram put it, you would kick the plastics rather than the football.
This is where the environmental club ensured the fields were cleaned, by picking up the waste and throwing them in the bins. He found this whole process of picking up plastics after the festival was over tedious and not sustainable in the long run. He said students and staff did not throw the waste in the bins because there was lack of awareness and no accountability.
This sparked a passion in Ram, which resulted in him staying in the environmental club. This is when he first got his idea to promote waste segregation during the fete carnival.
Ram’s Waste Segregation Solution
In 9th grade, after COP21, on which Ram did a presentation, brought the need to save the environment to the attention of the world, Ram had the idea to put stickers on paper and plastic plates and cups, indicating the waste needed to go in a bin. He thought, why not promote waste segregation at the same time? So, Ram wanted to have color coded stickers and bins in place to get students and staff to segregate their waste during the carnival. He would have red, green and blue stickers. Blue (plastics) sticker indicated it needed to go in the blue bin, green sticker (paper & cardboard) it needed to in the green bin and red sticker (every other waste) needed to go in the red bin.
He prepared a presentation for his school PTA (Parent Teacher Association) to showcase the idea he had come up with, but they did not take him seriously and told him not to do it. Ram could not implement his idea the following year because the carnival was too close to his 10th grade board examination.
If this was any other person (including myself), I would have given up on the idea and moved on. However, Ram was not any other person, he was patient and waited for his time and his time came in 11th grade.
Ram The Eco-Warrior
So, in the fete carnival that took place last year in his school, Ram started his waste campaign early because he knew it would take some time to set up the processes he wanted in place. A month and a half before the carnival, Ram went to the school administration to get permission to do his campaign. The school took Ram seriously and gave him the green light.
Ram and his team of volunteers from 9th, 10th and 11th grade found time during lunch break and after school, to have all processes set up before the carnival began. Processes included preparing a presentation, buying the different coloured stickers and bins, placing the bins in the right location and having posters in place explaining how to segregate waste.
A week before the carnival, Ram presented to the entire school of how his waste campaign was going to work, in order to generate awareness. On the day of the festival, the volunteers from the environmental club stood next to each vendor stall and manually stuck the different coloured stickers on to the rim of the plates and cups, indicating which bin they needed to go in. The stickers were only stuck when the sale by the vendor was made, as the vendor did not want to end up with stickers on products that they were not able to sell. However, Ram mentioned that all the vendors were able to sell all their products within the hour.
Above each of the coloured bins, was a poster, informing the students to check the waste in their hand for the colour of their stickers, to ensure they threw the waste in the correct bin. Ram and his team were able to collect 32 kgs of recyclables waste, out of which 25 kgs were plastic. They sold the cardboard and plastic waste to a Kabadiwalla. Ram even informed the stalls to keep cardboard boxes separately because he knew they would sell for a higher price. They were able to make 600 rupees from selling all their waste.
We asked Ram what was the reception from his fellow students about his waste campaign, he said they called him “the Garbage man”. To me, personally, Ram is not the Garbage man, he is the Waste Guardian that Chennai desperately needs right now. Chennai produces 5000 tons of waste per day, out of which 3500 tons comes from residential properties, apartments, schools, colleges, etc. A large portion of this waste is unsegregated. A 11th grade student has already taken initiative in his school to solve this problem.
Next Steps For Ram and his Campaign
Ram wants to refine the process, so he can do it better next year. His biggest learning experience was that the stickers were too expensive. The good news is that he has been able to find smaller and cheaper stickers, which have a hole in the centre. These stickers are hole protectors for binders.
Ram would also like to take his expand his idea and take it further. He doesn’t want his idea to be a yearly festival thing, he wants waste segregation to happen on a daily basis in his school. He has already started the process to make this happen, for which he has 5 steps:
1. Presenting to the school administration about having colour coded bins for the school.
2. Start generating awareness among school students and staff members.
3. Buying the bins.
4. Placing bins in strategic places.
5. Getting people to start segregating and using the bin.
Ram is already in step 4, which means he has already got the school to buy 5 sets of 3 coloured bins each and set them up in strategic places. He has done all this by himself. Makes you wonder how passionate he is about waste management and is actively trying to do something about it. Ram is even trying to get his school to get a composting site for their biodegradable waste. Ram has not quite cracked step 5 yet, and once he has, he wants to take this idea and spread it to all schools in Chennai. He is actively looking for passionate people like himself to achieve this ambition of his. That is why we are excited to work with Ram and make his dreams of a cleaner Chennai come true.
Once, he graduates from school, Ram would like to become an Environmental Engineer.