Those living in Indian cities are acutely familiar with the vast quantities of waste they see. Managing that waste is a serious challenge, and our cities have mainly failed in dealing with it.
This isn’t merely a failure of urban governance, but also a consequence of the staggering volume of waste generated by inhabitants of any major Indian city, be it New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or even Bengaluru.
But now, without the assistance of the state, individual citizens are taking up the challenge of reducing waste in our cities. Their solutions are simple but very effective and sustainable in the larger scheme of things.
Take Bengaluru, for example. Many citizen-driven ‘plate banks’ have come up in the city to reduce the amount of disposable cutlery that is making its way into landfills. These organisations rent out steel plates, spoons, glasses, bowls and even serving spoons. Some of these organizations charge a small fee, while others share them out free of charge for various functions in a local community.
Take the example of Rent-A-Cutlery, which operates from the Sarjapur and Whitefield areas, and rents out cutlery to local communities. Lakshmi Sankaran, along with Rishita Sharma, began this venture while volunteering with Whitefield Rising, one the city’s most influential citizen movements dedicated to civic projects, in their waste management and composting initiatives.
Speaking to The Better India, Lakshmi shares about the driving force behind this initiative. “We decided to become part of the solution for one of the major problems the city is encountering, which is garbage mismanagement,” she said.
For a set of one 12-inch plate, spoon, bowl and tumbler, the venture charges Rs 15 for 24 hours. All the cutlery, they claim, is sanitised using a citrus peel bio-enzyme natural cleaner made at home. They rent out their cutlery to poojas, functions, birthday parties, small community events, corporate functions and even get-togethers at homes.
“Till date, we have saved more than 25000 disposables from going into landfills getting burnt through this initiative,” she claims.
Besides the obvious amounts of waste that such reusable and clean cutlery prevents, another major concern is managing the city’s precious water resources. Nearly 4.5 litres of water is used to manufacture a tiny disposable paper cup that is found in offices across the city. These ventures are looking to change the way we approach something as basic as what cutlery to use.
Imagine the number of the cups that are consumed by these offices on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis, and the volume of waste generated is incredible – considering production, electricity consumption and garbage dumping.
While ventures like Rent-A-Cutlery charge a nominal fee, others like Adamya Chetana (Invisible Spirit) Kitchen in Gavipuram not only supply mid-day meals to government schools in the city but also rent out cutlery to local communities for free.
With a stock of 10,000 sets of plates, glasses, bowls and spoons, this community-driven venture, which began in 2003, rents them out to local communities.
“The deposit is in the form of a cheque, which we will return once the utensils come back after usage,” said the organization to The Hindu. For cleaning and maintenance purposes, the organization utilises a commercial dishwasher.
There are also residents of SJR Verity apartment complex on Kasavanahalli Road, who rent cutlery from a plate bank run by senior citizens of the Bhajan Group. This venture began nearly two years ago. “We started in a small way. We now have 200 plates, 500 glasses, 250 spoons. These are rented out for free to residents of the community. We maintain a log sheet, and there is a lot of demand,” said a resident of SJR Verity, to The Hindu.
On Brindavan Layout in K.R. Puram, the Reuse Cutlery Bank is managed by an active citizen volunteers group of the area. The plate bank has “70 dinner plates, 55 water/juice glasses, 50 tea/coffee glasses, and 30 snacks plates,” according to the Chennai-based publication.
“Every year, we organise Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. This year, we decided to use only reusable cutlery. After the celebrations, we decided to invest in a plate bank. Since October, we have lent our utensils for various events, including birthday parties, sports day, and a baby shower,” said a volunteer of the K.R. Puram Rising volunteer group.
There are many other such community-driven or commercial initiatives in the city that have not been listed in this article. The point of talking about them, however, is to show people that citizens don’t have to wait for the state to intervene. Residents of Bengaluru are availing of these services, and there are now many such options available that people in the city can choose from.