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The Art of the Matter Finding Wealth in Waste

Segregation, bio-degradable, non-degradable, waste separation – these are terms that can intimidate even the most hardy. While there is awareness about the need to manage even domestic waste, the process seems daunting, and easy solutions are opted for to overcome the difficulty.

Mathew Joe, who worked closely with MB Nirmal in Exnora International, a non-profit organisation for environmental service, was inspired to develop on the concepts promoted by the organisation and develop sustainable solutions for waste management. An idea struck him when he put the old newspapers to the kabadiwallah one day. “I had been doing this before too, but this time, it made me realise that what we throw away as waste has some value for this old-paper collector,” says Joe. He did some research and discovered that the kabadiwallah contributes to 20 percent of the recycling industry, and using him better, understanding his value, could well produce an answer to our waste problems to some extent.

A B.Com from the Madras Christian College, 2009, he was now quite keen to inculcate waste management as a habit in children, and over time, developed the idea of using schools to dispose their paper waste and use the proceeds to educate girl children. He started Paperman in Chennai, a company registered under Section 25 under NGO Act. “I wanted the company to be sustainable, and so registered it under this section to introduce professionalism,” he explains.

The first of the schemes – Recycle Week, was introduced in 2010-11, where by school children, corporates and colleges were involved in collecting wastes and the proceeds used to educate 100 girl children with KC Mahindra Education Trust as partners. Though this was to be a week-long event per location for three to four months, it continues to be conducted as organisations and schools call Paperman for posters and other materials to continue the activity. Another initiative has been to profile kabadiwallahs. “There are 1.5 million papermen in the country, each operating individually. We are in the process of profiling them and making their details available online so that anyone looking for them in a specified region can reach them directly,” he says.

The third initiative, the Recycle Wall, was the original brain child, the Recycle Week being a by-product. “We needed time to perfect this concept,” Joe says. In this case, a 7×4 feet jute wall with soft-board inside is provided to schools. Schools collect the paper waste, dispose it to the nearest paperman and use the proceeds for any social cause of their choice.

The details of the activity are pinned up on the board, which is on display at the entrance of the school. This serves as an information board for visitors to know the kind of environment-friendly activities undertaken by the school. “We also have an online wall where schools post the details and use the medium to exchange ideas and innovate on new concepts,” Joe adds. There are dedicated clubs in school for this activity, ensuring continuity. This is also self-sustaining, as per his vision.

Already Recycle Week has been happening outside the state too. Paperman would like to make these concepts available across the country and is looking for partners. It also partners with organisations such as Interact Club of Rotary Club, and CIPET (Central Institute for Plastics and Engineering Technology) for its activities, using their expertise to fine-tune its programs. It will continue to work with like-minded organisations.

“We would eventually like to create experiences that people would like to be part of and learn from,” says Joe. Some of their other initiatives with this concept in mind have been Waste for Art – an art show using waste as raw materials. It also co-creates events with waste and its management as the theme.

Joe and Paperman are here for the long haul, and so the focus has been to create activities that do not depend on donations but are self-sustaining. They should also make a social impact, though within the system. Only then can the needed change in our environment happen.

S Meera

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