Permaculture is an innovative framework for creating sustainable ways of living based on the ethics of earth care, people care and fair share. The International Permaculture Convergence (IPC) is a biennial event where permaculture activists from across the planet come together to share and learn. From mid October to early December 2017 I was working at the IPC and Permaculture Design Course (PDC) taking place at Polam Farm in Telangana, India.
Prior to arriving at Polam Farm I did not know what to expect or what projects I could potentially get involved with. Upon arrival I recognised there were opportunities to help with toilet, sanitation and waste water systems (you can read more about that in brief in this blog post) and to lead on the waste management project.
Waste management in India presents some unique and some comparable challenges, when compared to my experience of waste management in the UK. a Perhaps when most waste was biodegradable this was not a problem, however with the abundance of single use plastics this now presents a serious problem. Litter picking and waste sorting is viewed as a role filled by those lowest in society and is not treated with respect.
For the waste management project at the IPC and PDC I was determined to go against these stereotypes, implementing event sustainability and permaculture design best practice. (For the free downloadable guide to waste management, download the project document pack here.)
Faced with limited physical resources, people power and available time I got going with the project as quickly as possible. Following a brief design phase, the location and design of a recycling centre was decided. After reclaiming some wooden pallets, saving them from becoming signage and fire wood, the recycling centre was constructed with an incoming bay, sorting area and segregated bays. The location made use of a nearby neem tree and fence that provided shade for more comfortable working in the morning and afternoon.
The recycling centre functioned well during the IPC when it was under increased pressure. The team of volunteers I was working with were excellent and all worked hard to get the job done. We successfully segregated all waste ahead of schedule and were able to have Thursday and Friday afternoon to relax!
Thankfully most of the construction and distribution of waste stations was completed prior to my arrival. The bins were constructed from old oil barrels with holes cut in them and rubber tubing covering sharp edges. I particularly liked the fun face design on the plastic and paper bins. For lower waste areas some smaller bins were constructed with jute bags and bamboo poles.
A major design change was required to the sanitary bins. The initial design exposed the waste and the plan was to burn waste where they were placed, which is not appropriate for a public event space. Smaller bins with lids were constructed and the bins for burning were moved to a safer location away from the event space. This lead to much easier and safer dealing of sanitary waste during the event.
Plastic waste is a serious problem everywhere on our planet. I both love and hate plastic. It is an incredible innovation and a versatile material. Our civilisation would not be the same without it. Sadly most plastics are environmentally destructive, made from finite resources and constructed with energy intensive industrial processes. Many plastic items are used only once and cannot be effectively recycled, ending up in our local environment, our oceans, in a landfill or being incinerated. In India plastic is a visually evident problem. It can be found everywhere, from roadsides to green spaces to beaches. It is often seen burning in open fires, releasing toxic chemicals into the immediate environment.
At Polam Farm plastic waste was the main waste stream. Some could be reused immediately, such as plastic water bottles that were reused for drinking water and to store fuel or chemicals. As the site is a working farm there was some industrial and packaging plastic waste such as plastic crates, plumbing pipes and connectors, plastic sacks and polystyrene (known in India as thermocol). The majority of plastic waste was low grade plastic such as cellophane, biscuit wrappers, crisp packets and plastic bags. Unfortunately this type of plastic has a low reuse and recycling potential. We were unable to find a recycler in nearest town Jogpiet or nearest city Hyderabad that would take the low grade plastics, leading to the waste having to be burnt.
Burning or landfilling of plastic waste is far from an ideal situation. The true solution to deal with the problem is to not create the waste in the first place by being conscious with our actions. I urge everyone reading this to please be mindful of your plastic purchases and waste generation. It is not easy to avoid all single use plastics as it is so prevalent globally, it takes concerted effort and conscious thinking to choose non plastic options, thankfully those positive actions can have a significant benefit to our environment and the future of our civilisation.
Food waste was initially planned to be dealt with by constructing a series of compost heaps behind the kitchen area. While this proved to be an effective solution during the PDC, the expected increase of food waste during IPC made this solution no longer viable. Potential alternative solutions included taking all food waste to the local dairy farm or dealing with it locally on the farm in some way. It was decided that all food waste would be taken to a permaculture zone 3 area on the farm to be processed into compost at a later date.
Paper and Card Waste
After food and plastic, paper and card were the third most common waste streams. Some of the paper and card was lined with plastic or metal and would therefore have to taken to local town or city before being recycled at a processing plant. Large sheets of cardboard that did not contain plastic or metal, such as cardboard packing boxes, were used in the nursery and mandala gardens as mulch.
A solution was required for smaller paper such as old newspapers and used note paper. The initial proposed solution was to soak the paper in water before adding it to the food waste compost heaps. Unfortunately after a day of soaking the liquid became foul smelling with an oily film as chemicals and inks dispersed into the water. It was decided that this was unsuitable to add to the compost heaps. An alternative solution was devised to turn the wet paper into briquettes for the fire. The water was drained into the black water system and the wet paper was squashed into briquettes around the size of a cricket ball. After a week of drying in the sun they were ready to use. Reports were that they worked well and burnt for a long time.
The Kids Zone was a fantastic upcycling success. When sorting of bulk waste began it became apparent that a lot could be used for alternative purposes. Worn tyres, empty barrels, discarded planks and broken gardening equipment became the main features of a fun playground. The area was enjoyed by children and adults alike.
The most fun part of the project was creation of the free shop. Before the IPC the function of the shop was to provide materials to other projects happening on the farm. During the IPC the shop was updated to feature mostly colourful, quirky and generally useful items. The free shop proved to be a popular area of the IPC and attracted people to visit the recycling centre to view items in the shop, talk about resource use and learn about recycling.
When considering what could be improved, the legacy impact on behaviour change is likely to be minimal and I would have liked more time to deliver comprehensive waste management educational programmes to those who live in rural India.
The main challenges were the waste culture in rural India, occasional sanitary waste contamination in other bins, last minute changes to the food waste composting system and not being able to recycle low grade plastic waste.
Overall the project went very well, with total waste quantity being manageable, segregation in the bins mostly good, all waste streams segregated in the recycling centre ahead of schedule and solutions to problems implemented successfully. In was an honour to work on a waste management project at such a high profile international event with such wonderful people.
… and after
Thank you to the awesome IPC 2017 Waste Management Crew!
Project Document Pack
Featuring full documentation based on permaculture and event sustainability best practice, photographs from the event site and notes from meetings, email, social media, etc. The document pack is open source and public domain. Please feel free to use, adapt and share as you like.
Find out more about Permaculture in India
Aranya Agricultural Alternatives www.permacultureindia.org
IPC India 2017 www.ipcindia2017.org
For the full post from Russ Spollin visit HERE