Shriya Jhaver is in class I at a nursery and primary school in Kotturpuram, and G. Sandhya is a class XII student at a government-aided school in T. Nagar. Both have learnt at school that they are never too young or old to take charge of issues in their neighbourhood, or encourage people to pick up a shovel and make compost at home.

A handful of schools in the city, driven by motivated teachers are driving home green lessons such as auditing power consumption and taking up composting of waste, hoping that these practices will travel beyond the boundaries of the school and into the home.

While Sandhya and her fellow students, who are part of the ‘environment ministry’ at Sri RKM Sarada Vidyalaya Model Girls Higher Secondary School screen students each morning at the gate for plastic bags, students at Kids Central, where Shriya studies, were encouraged by the school to take up one civic issue around their house, campaign in their immediate neighbourhood, brainstorm for solutions and make a representation to officials.

At schools striving to become zero-waste campuses, the message begins in the backyard, where compost pits and drums have been set up.

“The food waste goes to the compost drum, recyclables to the concerned person, and e-waste to kuppathoti.com. Once these practices start, they have a domino effect and slowly spread outside the school,” said Sindu Suneel, coordinator, Kids Central.

The school’s busy notice board is pinned with primary students’ projects and their outcomes. Kush Lunawath, a class V student said that he and his friends went to their apartments and conducted a signature campaign asking residents to segregate waste last month. “Some were initially resistant to the idea,” he confesses. “We spoke to them for three hours,” said Manu, another student. He also found out that some in his neighbourhood were already composting.

“From footpaths to garbage to indiscriminate parking and ill-treatment of animals, students took up a host of issues,” said Valli Subbiah, the institution’s founder. Students have written to Chennai Corporation commissioner and the Mayor, and one student visited a nearby police station as well.

At Sarada Vidyalaya, headmistress Kannaki Prabakaran, has been leading the eco-club since she was a teacher, and both she and her school have won awards. She said they took up composting in 2006 and use compost to nurture the school’s herbal garden and plants.

“Over the years, students have taken up several projects relating to energy consumption, tree planting and waste management. Some of the waste from the noon-meal centre also gets directed there,” she said. B. Yamuna, a student said that over the years the number of bins has come down from 8 to two now.

Most such as G. Thangaraj, mathematics teacher at the Corporation Girls Higher Secondary School, Nungambakkam and district coordinator, National Green Corps (NGC) said that they stepped in because of personal interest. The school has one compost pit and three mother beds where seeds for saplings are planted.

“NGC students who take charge of planting definitely become more aware of issues facing the environment,” he said, adding that currently NGC schools get an annual grant of Rs. 2,500 which they want increased. The school is also part of the ‘One Billion Fruit Trees,’ campaign of The Indo-International Initiative for Billions of Fruit Trees and NGC.

Recognising that food waste contributes significantly to trash, students of the eco-club of PSBB T. Nagar conducted a survey called ‘Think, eat and save’ in classes VI, VII, and VIII and have put up their findings on the school notice board. Radha Balasubramianan, who heads the eco club at the school and has been recognised by the State Government for her efforts, said students have also taken up up-cycling projects. “The school is also very interested,” she said. The next step, she said was to look for recipes for leftover food.

Manjula Sampath, eco-club coordinator, Sacred Hearts Matriculation said that other than segregation of waste and composting, they also take up energy auditing as part of the club’s activities. Schools such as Rosary Matriculation Higher Secondary School have a compost pit and also tap solar energy. “The two-storey kindergarten block runs on solar power and we are now are considering generating bio-gas,” said Lallu Mathew, eco-club coordinator of the school.

However, schools also noted that continued segregation and maintaining compost pits needed concerted effort, time and funds, which is perhaps why there are still many who do not take it up.

Workshops:

Pdfs of presentations made at Clean Chennai @ Home workshops in Adyar (Sep 7) and Nungambakkam (Sep 8)

Composting by Navneeth Raghavan

Garbage segregation by Navneeth Raghavan

Managing garbage effectively by Srinivas Krishnaswamy & Preethi Sukumaran

Here is a quick guide to start composting and recycling: http://thne.ws/cc-fridgesheet

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