Trashonomics: This Bengaluru company is teaching school children how to manage waste

Trashonomics recently represented India at The International Solid Waste Association Young Professionals Group and won the Waste Education Award, beating Greece and the US.
Trashonomics: This Bengaluru company is teaching school children how to manage waste
Trashonomics: This Bengaluru company is teaching school children how to manage waste
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“Environmental science curriculum today is so outdated,” observes Archana Prasad Kashyap. “For example, it tells kids about global warming, but not how the trash they generate and dump every day is adding to it. It teaches them not to litter, but does not tell them what they should be doing with their waste.”

Archana is a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), one of the co-founders of Trashonomics, which is supported by a non-profit, Anonymous Indian Charitable Trust. The other co-founder, Claire Rao, was also a SWMRT member and together they co-compiled Trashonomics, a book for school children, which teaches them about mixed waste, composting, segregation at home, problems of waste mismanagement and littering, the importance of waste pickers and so on in five chapters, with interactive activities.

Archana and Claire

Released for the first time in 2016 by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, Trashonomics is now available in three languages, Kannada, Hindi and English, and will shortly be available in Odiya as well. The company recently represented India at The International Solid Waste Association Young Professionals Group (ISWA YPG) and won the Waste Education Award, beating Greece and the US for their work in teaching children waste management.

How Trashonomics works

Archana explains that they work in two ways – either by training teachers in Trashonomics or by conducting three-session workshops with children of classes 7 and up, in batches of 50-60 in government as well as private schools. “This is not a theory class – we give them ‘homework’, like getting recyclable or organic waste from home so that we can do sorting activities,” she says.

Kids burying trash to see what happens to it

While private schools must pay for these sessions, Trashonomics relies on grants and CSR to conduct trainings and sessions in government schools.

Trashonomics’ target audience is middle schoolers and up because they tend to be more open to ideas and change. “If you discuss this with adults, they will talk about how BBMP is not doing its job and things like that. Children, however, are not as cynical. They are very happy to learn and change their habits. Once you start telling them about this, they come up with the most innovative ideas to take it forward. Besides, waste management is a life skill,” Archana observes.

"And when they ask questions, we give them more than just Trashonomics. We tell them how they can participate in the democracy. Do they know about their ward councillor or their MLA? We tell them that they can hold these representatives responsible,” she says. “Some of them wanted to write to the chief minister and talk about the problem! Even if they can’t do this now, when they turn 18, they can. It’s all about planting the seed of sustainability,” she adds.

The impact

Archana believes that Trashonomics should have been taught in schools 30 years ago. “If that had been done, we would not be in this situation,” she argues.

That being said, the impact of Trashonomics has been quite good, she says. “Children become ambassadors of solid waste management. One of our volunteers did a workshop in Vibgyor school, and the children really took it upon themselves to set up stalls and garner attention. They ended up educating adults about segregation and the laws governing waste management,” Archana shares.

Then, it becomes an ongoing process. Some children, for instance, would come up to the volunteers and ask what to do about the ants in their compost and how they take it further.

Another one of their projects is ‘EcoGram’, under which Trashonomics has taken their methods and knowledge to rural Bengaluru. In Betta Halasuru gram panchayat, they have taught waste management to 10 villages.

“We started in June 2016 with government schools in the area. Immediately the students took pride in waste management. We did a poster competition to design posters for the bins, the children went around the villages educating shopkeepers about the plastic ban in Karnataka and handing out paper bags. They even came up with the idea of drumming in front of houses that were not segregating and managing waste properly,” Archana shares.

Arushi Gupta, a project coordinator with the Anonymous Indian Trust, tells TNM that they also started collecting waste from the area. “We have been also following up with Trashonomics sessions in schools, and as a result the children have become eco ambassadors for us. We started using Trashonomics with adults. Our office is next to the ration shop. So if people come in for water or just out of curiosity, we talk to them about this and educate them,” she says.

As a result of these efforts, Arushi says that dumping and littering has stopped almost completely. Segregation also happens up to 90%, she adds.

Inclusion in school curriculum

Archana says that the ultimate goal is to include Trashonomics in school curriculums, and that they are already in talks with the state Department of Education for the same. “But changing the curriculum is not easy, it involves a lengthy procedure,” she says.

Children learning to sort recyclable waste

In the meantime, they are starting a pilot project to train government school teachers in Trashonomics. “We had approached the department three months ago and we are going to start training 150 teachers after Deepavali and see the results,” Archana says. “But we hope that we will be able to prove the impact of Trashonomics with this and the importance of waste management, and then be able to convince authorities to do this for every school.”

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