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He has been called variously “The Wizard of Waste” and “The Hero of Zero Garbage”. He has featured in the newspapers and on television for his innovative and often startlingly original approach towards recycling the everyday garbage we find in our streets and environment. He also holds workshops in schools and malls for the public and especially young children. Meet V R Iyer, an engineer by profession (now retired) and an active tennis coach by vocation.

It all started a decade ago when Iyer observed the havoc that mineral water plastic bottles and plastic bags were causing to the surroundings where he lived. He observed that the bottles were of a conical shape similar to that of sports trophies. This led him to the idea of fashioning plastic trophies from the waste bottles, which he continues to do ever since. As he was active in the tennis circuit, he began giving away these trophies for free to spread the idea of recycling waste.

He has built a complete garden out of waste plastic bottles and refuse. He transforms old cardboard boxes and even playing cards into useful items like caps. His interest in tennis has also led to some new ideas – a self-playing bat & ball, and a device to pick up tennis balls from the ground using a hollow plastic tube, all made completely out of waste materials. He has even made a cricket bat completely out of waste, a complete bicycle out of wheelchair tyres & scrap metal and polythene bags stuffed into a pillow case to make a soft cushion.

He has also come up with some innovations specific to the cleaning process. As a tennis coach, he found that the main problem on the tennis courts during the monsoon was water logging. Removing the water and drying the courts required a lot of effort. He came up with the ingenious solution of combining old waste gunny bags with discarded pieces of wood. The wood was fastened to one end of the gunny bags. To this he attached lengths of thrown-away tennis racquet gutting. The resulting implement could be easily dragged across the courts. The water could be soaked up by the gunny bag material and removed very fast. A 100ft x 100ft area could be dried in five minutes.

Another innovation came to his mind when he saw the sweepers collecting waste and leaving piles in corners to be collected later. He wondered why the waste could not be picked up as it was swept. The idea turned into another innovative solution. A cardboard box, open on one side, with old coir ropes attached to the other, so that it could be dragged along with the broom. As the waste is collected, it is swept into the cardboard box, saving time and improving cleanliness.

Yet another idea came to him when he read in the papers that the municipality had installed new dustbins, but 75% of them were stolen within a few days. He came up with a solution combining large waste plastic or cement bags with a throwaway cycle tyre attached as a rim. He personally installed the makeshift dustbins along a stretch near his residence. It was a big hit with the authorities and he received attention from various officials. He notes with regret however, that the initial enthusiasm did not last and he did not see the municipal authorities take up his idea in a big way.

Iyer has made it his mission to clean up streets and localities. He has an aversion to litter and often picks up waste wherever he finds it, transforming it into utilitarian items. He even carries a pair of scissors in his pocket at all times. Often, while travelling by bus, he picks up an old mineral water bottle and makes something useful out of it on the spot. The entrance to the housing society where he lives bears the mark of his quiet crusade, where you can see a large sign on global warming against a backdrop of a bare tree hung with refuse – a warning for our times.

Ravi Chandran

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