sustainability Society

Have you ever considered putting your community on a ‘declutter’ diet?

Things bought on a whim and ignored after the initial enthusiasm is past. Things flaunted a gazillion times and therefore, cannot be flaunted anymore. Declutter Elcot Avenue (DEA) rockets such items back into the orbit of usefulness through a community-driven reusing exercise.

An initiative at Elcot Avenue in Sholinganallur, it transfers used and unused items rendered useless in one pair of hands to another pair that values it. It is for the owner to decide whether to offer an item for free or a price.

Benazir Tehrani started DEA on WhatsApp during lockdown when she realised her universe would not shrink into insignificance if it shed some non-essentials and essentials and those things that lay in-between. High up on the list was a telescope admittedly bought in a fit of impetuousness for her daughter, and put on star-gazing duty as frequently as the exoplanet Gliese 581g is visited. In plain terms, it remained unused.

With many of her neighbours in Elcot Avenue and Kumaraswamy Nagar, Sholinganallur, similarly identifying forgotten, dusty items, DEA has become a community initiative.

R. Ramaswamy, president of Clasic Farms Owners and Residents Association and Secretary-cum-Treasurer of Clasic Gardens Owners Association, Kumarasamy Nagar, puts it this way: “This community which has earned accolades and awards for its zero-waste initiatives, jumped at the idea of decongesting their homes and giving away gently used items.”

He adds: The families went on a “Treasure Hunt” looking for items that can be recirculated.

“Nobody can promote any business in this group,” states Benazir. “It is a platform for recycling and reusing used items.”

Benazir explains that at first, the initiative reached out to three NGOs by donating old clothes for them to make masks.

“We were donating bags and bags of clothes. But how long can we be giving away only clothes?” says Benazir.

By then, she realised it would be a great idea to try to tackle a challenge people faced while relocating. These people struggled to find takers for items they wanted sold quickly for a nominal price.

In the middle of Chennai’s information-technology heartland, Elcot Avenue with its mix of gated communities and independent bungalows, often has a family relocating abroad or to a different Indian metro on work. Benazir says many a time she has noticed huge mattresses in good condition being thrown by the side of garbage bins.

“When I would try to find out the reason, I would invariably learn that there were no takers for these things. Sometimes, in our car park, there would be items abandoned by a family that is moving out,” says Benazir, who lives in a gated community. “By finding takers for these items within the community itself, the problem of transport is automatically addressed. It would be just a case of moving the items around the complex.”

Benazir admits to being inspired by a couple of community-driven “decluttering” initiatives in Mumbai.

The group has largely restricted DEA to Elcot Avenue and surrounding areas, because, as Benazir puts it, the community here has a strong three R’s culture (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).

Strict guidelines

The WhatsApp group is not operated by a laundry list of guidelines; but from what the admins say about the ones in operation, these are cut in gabbro-stone.

“Anyone offering an used item and those keen on buying it can’t have a discussion over the sale in the group. They have to take the transaction to their private chat. We also don’t encourage too much talk, and so, anyone posting an item should present one or more pics (in a collage) and pair it to a short description along with a mention of the price,” elaborates Benazir.

There are regular instances of an owner of an item choosing to just give it away, for free.

“My daughter had a huge telescope costing ₹5,500, which we had bought on a whim and a fancy, and we knew she was not going to use it. I said I was not going to sell it, but give it away to a child who was really interested in astronomy. So, I asked if anyone was interested and asked them to message me. I said I would speak to the child to gauge their interest in astronomy. One child was identified, and the telescope was given free to her,” says Benazir.

She notes that there are cases of items having been devoured ravenously under a minute. Apparently, a lady put out 12 artefacts for free, and they were taken in two ticks of the clock.

“Lightening sales and quick disposals have made this a very popular and most sought-after avenue of recycling, for the 2500 residents of this community,” says Ramaswamy, one of the administrators of the group.

Under the overpowering shadow of the pandemic, there is always a risk attached to people dropping in to inspect items offered for sale (or for free), how is the safety question addressed?

Benazir says “everyone takes responsibility for maintaining social distancing and sanitising” and meeting all the necessary safety requirements.

A list

In a written note, Ramaswamy shares a list giving a picture of the kind of used and unused items that over the last three months have been finding ready takers:

“School and college textbooks; computer software programme books; computer accessories; used and unused furniture items ranging from a kids table to sofas and dining tables; used and unused electronic household items and kitchen ware ranging from a simple stove to ovens, fridges and ACs and water purifiers; console games, music systems including speakers and MP players and even gramaphone and LP records; guitars, harmoniums, mouth organs, violins, tablas and banjos; baby items such as play mats, cribs and bassinets; CDs of Comics and cartoons along with educational aids like blackboards; and then cycles, two-wheelers and even cars.”

Sometimes, a sale can provide a peek into a career and even a life plan.

“I came to know that a high-flying executive from the community had retired early when he had put up swanky and elegant Samsonite and Aristocrat suitcases for sale through this forum,” says Ramaswamy. “I believe Declutter Elcot Avenue has come to stay in our community. The virus may go away or not but this viral sale medium has come to stay with us.”

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2020 9:35:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/have-you-ever-considered-putting-your-community-on-a-declutter-diet/article32935480.ece

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