Go Get Garbage is an Agra-based social enterprise that aims to solve the menace of excessive waste generated from the mass manufacture of pethas by turning it to manure.
Travellers will tell you that there’s no sight like the Taj Mahal gleaming on a full moon night. Every year, thousands of tourists from all over the world arrive in Agra to behold — and photograph — the Mughal marvel. But along with historical monuments, there is another icon in the city.
The petha is Agra’s most famous sweet, produced and sold in thousands across the city every day.
Image source: Flickr
Pethas are soft, translucent candies made from winter melons, also known as ash gourd. Historical records, and the people of Agra, mention that some of the earliest instances of pethas were found in the royal kitchens during the reign of Shah Jahan.
Today, hundreds of stores sprinkled across Agra offer the original pethas and their many flavoured iterations. Delicious as they are however, pethas are one of the largest sources of waste in the city.
The team at Go Get Garbage, an Agra-based waste management initiative, has taken it upon themselves to clean the mess while keeping the heritage of the petha intact.
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Agra is a city of contrast, dominated by a global tourism on one hand and by low civic standards on the other, says Rahul Jain, IIT-Roorkee alumni and founder of Go Get Garbage. Along with hospitality and leather manufacturing, the petha business comprises one of the city’s key industries with staggering production — and waste — estimates.
With the number of operational petha units in the city, the quantity of petha waste generated each day is estimated at 200 tonnes.
One of the ways the dump petha waste after making the legacy sweet “PETHA”.
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Posted by Go Get Garbage on Friday, January 27, 2017
This adds up to 70,000 tonnes of waste every year, all of which is dumped in the open, leading to infections, contagious diseases, and pollution.
“During the early months, we engaged with students and community members, guiding them on basic segregation and actionable ideas,” says Rahul. “We were able to guide communities to convert as much as 97% of their household waste through composting, recycling and reusing or donating.”
As they gained in positive response in the city, the Go Get Garbage team transformed into a full-fledged initiative, intent on providing solutions.
“We saw a lot of improvement, and we felt the need to offer visible demonstrations of what could be done.” The petha industry turned out to be an impactful area. While it yields tremendous waste, it is also a part of the city’s cultural heritage.
It is also easier to manage petha waste than one might imagine. Being made from winter melons, the waste is bio-degradable. If stored separately and kept clean, the remains of these fruits make for excellent fertilizers that replenish the soil and remove toxicity. Rahul and his team have engaged with Agra’s petha manufacturing associations to convert petha waste into compost.
The team is now setting up plans for a waste treatment facility with the aim to produce upto 250 tonnes of compost or fertilizers from petha waste.
“We are in conversation with farmers in and around Agra to use these fertilizers,” Rahul says. “Many of these farmers are switching from inorganic to organic farming now and they require clean organic fertilizers for cultivation.”
Currently in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign for the plant, the team hopes that funding from government and CSR sources will help them make the process more economical and beneficial to farmers as well.
Championing community development through smart initiatives, Rahul says, “our initiatives are founded on three pillars. One, we promote the use of appropriate technology (never excessive) to deal with civic issues. Two, we strive to make waste management a mainstream sector. And finally, we want all the participants in such projects to be incentivised both psychologically and monetarily.”
The success of the project in Agra will pave the way for similar projects in other areas. Rahul says, “A lot of cities and industries have the same issues as Agra. Our mission is to build these projects as replicable models to be used for the future too.”