• Radhika Iyengar

“waste” can generate a $1000 for COVID-19 relief work

“Waste” can generate $1000 for charity and can have policy implications. Hundreds of daily wage earners were on the roads in India. In my hometown Bhopal, my sister Pooja had formed a citizen’s collective to feed these inter-state travelers. These people were traveling many miles walking, on bicycles, in crowded busses in 45-degree centigrade. They have been given the name migrant, but my sister corrects me “they are not migrants, we have made them into migrants”. Pooja needed some funds so that she could continue driving her community kitchen along with Goldie, Mita, Sparsh, and others. See Andrew Revkin’s broadcast on the topic here- https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/04/03/letter-bhopal-facing-covid-19-citizens-spread-masks-food-hope/


Back at home in Millburn, the Climate Action group had been actively spreading the sustainability agenda. Kumkum Srivastav, one of the inspiring leaders in the group has been giving sustainability tips through videos and comments. Her kitchen produces no waste. We were all intrigued. I have a composter at home and I compost diligently. But zero waste was only an aspirational goal for me. We (60 families) were all eager to learn how to better manage our kitchens. The weather was turning better, Spring was peeping through our windows with magical flowers. We were all confined to homes and at our yards. Meanwhile, Kumkum had taken sustainability to another level. She was taking the seeds from tomatillos, peppers, cilantro from her kitchen “waste” and was planting in small pots.She also used peels and scraps for fertilizers in her soil bed. On zoom calls she would show us how the seeds have sprouted into saplings and the natural fertilizer helped them to grow beautifully.

Due to the lockdown, my socializing was on the phone. So she and I spent hours talking about the problems that we around. One day, she texted me to tell me that she would like to do a “plant sale” for the troubled migrants passing Bhopal. Pooja’s needs had multiplied four times by now. The influx of migrants continued to grow exponentially. They needed soaps, toothpaste, tooth-brush, sandals, a hand-towel and lots of food. Kumkum and I decided to combine our passion “zero waste” “sustainable lifestyles” and also raise money for the COVID-19 relief in Bhopal. We made a quick flyer “100% sales go towards the Bhopal COVID-19 relief”. She started to plant more saplings- cucumbers, cilantro, mint, tomatillos, tulsi, small chilies we had it all in our flyer.




“Plant Sale” not from plants from plant-nurseries near the town, plants were saplings from the seeds in Kumkum’s kitchen. Kumkum, an IT professional, started to spend her evenings and all weekends to tend to her “nursery”. Many neighbors ordered. We kept the price at $10 per plant. Yes, expensive, but the plant was just a token, the actual reason was charity. Of course, everything had to be green (not literally, I meant sustainably green). We needed to get containers to grow the plants and as takeways. We created another flyer to ask the Chobani lovers to store their containers. Strawberry plastic containers were no longer kept in the (hopefully) recycling bin, we had a new purpose for them. Many residents came forward to share their potentially recycled containers. Our “Plant Sale” drive had become so popular that we were getting orders from the Basking Ridge, a nearby town. Pooja's friend Pratiti, also from Bhopal, in Basking Ridge started to help us with this drive. Kumkum also created videos on how to plant the sapling in homes when our friends take the sapling. It was a full package- sapling grown with tender loving care along with tips to take good care of the plant at home.


Back in Bhopal, the news spread that we are raising some funds. The Municipal Corporation of Bhopal (equivalent to a City Township Council) heard about the green initiative. This World Environment Day (June 5th) announced their green drive. Inspired by our model, all residents in Bhopal are asked to use their recyclable containers to grow plants. The Corporation will take these plants and plant them in various parts of the city.



During this pandemic, I learned that individual actions on sustainability can lead to massive policy implications. We need to keep doing our bit. In my household, Chobani containers don't go into the recycling bin automatically, I may have another purpose for them.

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Sustainability now or never

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