Editorial: From Grey to Green

Savio Silveira

The discussion was on garbage bins.

The pleasant spring weather in Rome, complemented by a generous serving of good Toscana wine, had led us into a passionate discussion.

‘Just think of the number of garbage bins you see all over the place here’ pointed out Peter Gonsalves, ‘and compare it, for example, with our own school campuses back in the province. It’s quite a task just locating a bin!’

My mind travelled back to our school campuses, and in particular, to the recess scene. Hundreds of kids, hungrily gorging themselves on chips and biscuits and what have you, and then blissfully flinging the empty packets around. And after the bell has summoned these litter-vending machines back to their books, out comes a battalion of peons, armed with an assortment of clean-up gear... and launch a surgical attach on the grisly garbage. VoilĂ , says the school management, behold our immaculate campus!


So what are we teaching our students? That they can litter the world as they brashly cruise along and that someone else will come by to clean up their mess? Is this the education we are so proud of? It certainly is time that we begin straightening out our skewed up systems. And for a start, let us ensure that the children are not allowed to enter the classroom until they have personally picked up every bit of litter and carefully consigned it to the bin.

And talking about bins, it is high time we introduced colour-coded bins in our campuses to educate the children on segregation of garbage. Across the world, colour coding of litter bins has been in vogue for years—white for paper, blue for plastic, green for organic matter. Segregating garbage is the first, and easily one of the biggest steps in efficient waste management. We don’t need sophisticated technology to resolve our garbage woes; all we need is simple common sense and discipline.

But relegating garbage to its appropriate bin is not the end of the story. If anything, it is the beginning of a new chapter, especially for the garbage. The big words today in environmental care are ‘Recycle’ and ‘Reuse’. While recycling the Blue bin may need professional help, the Green and White bins can easily be managed by the students. The organic waste can be converted into compost which can then be used in the school gardens. The waste paper can be fashioned into a huge range of products. If these recycling processes appear bewildering, don’t panic: many pages of know-how on garbage recycling are available on the internet. And if further assistance is needed, there are many organizations that would willingly come to the school and train the students in these processes.

And what the children learn at school is not meant to remain confined to the school. Once they have perfected the art of garbage management, recycling and reuse, they can introduce the same in their housing colonies and neighbourhoods.

Insignificant as they may seem, the garbage bins hold the solution to many of our environmental concerns. And so, with the new academic year already here, it’s time we get working on the bins. That will definitely be huge step forward on the road from grey to green.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Savio, for making a mention of my ecological concerns. Congratulations for this timely issue: ‘From Grey to Green’.

    Making India ‘green’, I realize, is one thing. Removing India's ‘grey’ is quite another matter.

    This difference was brought home to me in 1997 when I planned a teachers’ manual for Tej-prasarini’s 'Quality Life Education' series. The title was supposed to be 'Exercises in Environment Education'. I wanted NGOs who were experts in the field to write it. The three that I contacted had great plans for greening India. They showed me excellent lesson plans and photos of their projects that taught children to grow trees on terraces and to turn compost to fertilizer... But not one could give me a lesson to train students on how to manage their personal wastes. (I include the ‘Centre for Environment Education’, Ahmedabad, which was at that time a leader in the field.)

    Digging deeper, I became aware of a disturbing reality. Waste management in India is a structural problem, it is strictly caste-related. Your description of peons and servants marching out to clean the dirt that students have generated is a stereotype, and therefore perceived as the normal way to do things. Many children in our premier institutions grow up without touching a broom, and with the conviction that clean-up jobs are for those down the caste ladder.

    Schools reinforce this prejudice. They do not teach students to take responsibility for the civic disposal of personal wastes - from littering, to spitting, to defecating – with the same persistence and sanctions they attach to teaching the curriculum or training for sports.

    Educating to personal waste management is more than making India green. It calls for prophetic education. It means transforming a culture 'from within'. This is an uphill task and it can only begin by training teachers first, and then students for an egalitarian mentality that links cleanliness to mutual respect.

    I know that some principals have sincerely tried to make a change - through the placement of bins in corridors and playgrounds, to the inclusion of collaborative cleaning in the curriculum. But we still have a long way to go in making personal civic responsibility the defining quality of every Salesian school.

    Peter Gonsalves