It has been 48 years since B came to Auroville – and he is still as committed as ever to protecting our precious planet. In his daily life, he tries to reduce waste in any way he can. With his goddaughter Bhakti, B has created the Heartcore Cyclist T-shirts, aiming to raise awareness about waste, recycling and upcycling. We sat down to get B’s unique perspective on waste management, and why he thinks it is time to reconsider some fundamental consumer categories.
“The current world cultures mostly still believe that there is such a thing as waste,” says B. “But waste is a concept that was promoted by consumerist-driven corporations, who want to influence people to buy more and more things. When something has finished its so-called useful life – or if it’s caught in planned obsolescence – then it’s discarded and considered to be useless waste.”
In contrast, B lives with what some call a Zero Waste approach, though he is critical of that term. Zero Waste is the name chosen for policies pursued by various cities and municipalities around the world. San Francisco is often lauded as having reached that goal, where everything disposed of in the city gets treated in some way, diverted away from the landfill. There is a strict collection system and stringent fines to impose it.
“But each of us as individuals needs to have that kind of consciousness”, B asserts. Vegetable peels from the kitchen are valuable material that can create methane and compost. Every household can have its own composting system, and under-sink biogas digesters are now readily available. What’s more, rather than ending up with a pile of plastics, consumers can refuse buying their products in plastic packaging to begin with.
The Trap of Machine Segregation
“What has happened,” says B, “is that some corporations have decided: ‘No, you don’t have to sort your waste. We will sort it for you, and you will pay us'”. Very large and expensive waste-sorting plants are being constructed in many places, where robots and automated systems sort the trash. This process is extremely energy intensive, and factory owners profit from reselling the end products – while residents are made to pay for it through their taxes.
In some cities, waste is burned in large treatment plants to generate electricity under euphemisms such as Waste-to-energy. Incineration sends almost all the carbon content from that matter into the atmosphere as CO2 – as well as toxins and heavy metals. Costing fuel to burn, it also destroys valuable resources which could otherwise have been recycled. These methods are not needed when people sort their own waste at home, B points out.
Building the Trash Mahal
B wanted to show that a house could be built out of anything, so he built his current home – the “Trash Mahal” – in 2015, after collecting waste materials on site for two years. The walls are made of compressed earth blocks which were being discarded as substandard. Old VHS tapes are incorporated into the walls, and glass bottles serve as colourful skylights. Discarded ceramics become artistic wall caps, while washing machine doors are repurposed as windows.
As B was preparing to build the house, a cyclone struck Auroville, knocking down many trees. A big African mahogany (Khaya senegalensis) fell in front – and B used its branches for pillars. Other fallen trees were transformed into a Torii gate, inspired by the structures erected at the entrance to Japanese Shinto temples, believed to clear away one’s bad karma. A discarded ceramic hand from an art project has been covered in jewels, likewise on their way to the landfill – as a sign of destiny offering abundance to the visitor.
Summing up his philosophy, B says: “There should be no waste – we have to get rid of that concept. We have a belief system, a conditioning that’s telling us that these things aren’t valuable. The waste is not out there – it’s in our consciousness. All matter is sacred, and as our Mother Earth becomes more and more saddened by our treatment of Her, we will realize that it’s either evolution in our thinking – or it’s extinction.”
Tips for Eliminating Waste
Whether you are a novice or a seasoned expert in recycling, there are many ways to reduce waste in your everyday life. Here are some suggestions:
– Sort and segregate your waste. Food containers made of glass or plastic should be cleaned, dried and segregated, so they can easily be recycled.
– Don’t throw litter in nature or on the road. Make sure that it is collected.
– Re-use plastic containers, for example returning and refilling bottles at some shops.
– For organics, have a compost pile and an anaerobic biogas digester in your kitchen. Portable biogas systems are available, which fit under the sink and generate methane for cooking. The leftover mass becomes compost for plants.
– Find out where your waste is sent. Get involved politically to oppose exploitative and inefficient waste treatment schemes in your area, such as Waste-to-energy.
– A compost toilet allows you to reuse a valuable resource – unlike flush toilets, which waste water and feed into septic tanks generating sludge. Cover the poop with sawdust and make compost for plants.
– Use waste as cheap and durable construction material. The internet gives you free access to countless people’s experiences in creatively making homes from re-used plastic, glass bottles and many other ‘waste’ products.
B wanted to create a souvenir for people who support Zero Waste Auroville, and who want to spread its ideas. The T-shirt, designed by Bhakti, is made of organic cotton sourced directly from farmers. It contains no bleach or chemicals and isn’t dyed, coming only in the single original colour of organic cotton.
–Cycle – the best form of transport according to B; Bicycles are quiet and create no emissions.
–Recycle – for reusing old materials
–Upcycle – for creating something useful out of the materials, such as a work of art.
On buying the T-shirt, one becomes a lifetime member of Zero Waste Auroville, and can provide their email address for a future mailing list on Zero Waste matters. Rather than wrapping the shirt in plastic, the package is a biodegradable brown bag which has on it a certificate of lifetime membership, with a reminder to protect the environment.
B and Bhakti have promoted Zero Waste Auroville with the Heartcore Cyclist shirt at various festivals and fairs, and the shirt can be found at the Stand4Upcycling boutique at the Aurovile Visitors’ Centre, as well as the bicycle shop Aurovelo.
It is also available at the Auroville.com online store.