A Whiff of Fresh Air in Exchange for Waste Paper

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During the last three-years Sudha Kumari has collected 137 tons of paper waste, delivered 172,000 plants, and reached out to 5000 families in Noida.

By collecting paper and plastic waste and exchanging it for air-purifying plants, Sudha Kumari from Noida, wants to ensure our homes have more plants and less waste.

If somebody tells you that your monthly newspaper raddi can give you more fresh air and oxygen in return, most probably, you would dismiss it as a laughable claim. Similar was the response of people, when Sudha Kumari, from Noida, floated the idea of exchanging their raddis with air-purifying indoor and outdoor plants. They were intrigued by the idea of someone taking their waste away and giving plants in exchange! That was 2016. During the last three years, Sudha has made a name for herself and for her unique initiative aimed towards promoting waste segregation and recycling.  

“While working in the corporate sector like other city dwellers, I used to commute daily, and always had these questions on my mind – why is their garbage on the road? Where does this garbage go? Why the government agencies won’t do anything to segregate this waste?” she recalls. But instead of passing the buck on the inefficiency of the municipality, she decided to take the next step. She met officials at the Noida Authority to understand the mechanism of solid waste collection and segregation. The answers she got didn’t make much sense to her and she came back dissatisfied with what was being done. It made her realize that the process is too complicated, but at the same time she started looking for ways she could contribute to waste segregation, ultimately resulting in the formation of WasteRoots.

Sudha decided to say goodbye to her corporate job, and took up this initiative to help waste management and tackle air pollution, through her small measures. “Any initiative focused for a cause, has to be self-sustainable. Then only it can make a change in the long run,” Sudha says. She decided to make it a full-time vocation and first started contacting housing societies to convince them to give her their paper waste, in exchange for plants. Her plan was to take the segregated waste for recycling and also to promote plants. At first, her idea was disapproved by many of her friends. In housing societies, she had to face the wrath of Kabaadiwalas, and RWAs, since RWAs were collecting the waste and selling it to Kabaadiwala. Also, she had a hard time reaching out to societies to make waste segregation more organized. But, ultimately her persistent efforts paid off. She also collaborated with the waste management agencies and started collecting papers in exchange for the plants.

Till April 2019 she has collected 137 tons of paper waste, delivered 172,000 plants, and reached out to 5,000 families in Noida. She is now also running independent campaigns in malls and schools to promote waste segregation and recycling. In schools, she is encouraging students to exchange their old notebooks for plants.

Sudha believes that in a country like India, where total readership has reached 110 million with piles of waste waiting to be recycled and reused, the newspaper industry is only adding to it. WasteRoot’s initiative helps people to get their paper waste segregated. Now, she has also started taking plastic wastes in exchange for plants. “WasteRoots is just a call away to take care of your waste in exchange for plants and other garden supplies. Any person who has 11 kg and more of plastics and paper can reach out to us and get it replaced with oxygen giving plants at their doorstep. At WasteRoots you get Rs. 110 as credit for 11 kg of wastes like plastic and paper. You can take plants, pots and other garden supplies of the same value. The collected paper waste is sent to the paper mills to reuse it as paper,” she shares.

Since 2017, Sudha has been getting calls from different parts of the country, with people motivating and praising her efforts. Many of the callers are requesting her to start the service in Bengaluru, Pune, and Gurgaon. Though she is short of funds at present but she is quite interested in expanding to other regions in the near future. She also plans to collect e-waste and segregate it properly, as there is a scarcity of awareness among people about electronic waste handling and segregation. She plans to collaborate with certified government e-waste segregation agencies to implement e-waste segregation in every household. Her goal is to ensure every household has more plants and less waste.

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