In my previous article, I had highlighted the importance of sustainability education. As the entire world is fast moving towards urbanisation, sustainability education is gaining momentum. Many schools in the country have become model institutions vis-a-vis sustainability education. It is important for our educational institutions to start composting organic waste within their campuses.
During my visit to Solan district in Himachal Pradesh (HP) in October this year, I found St Luke’s School located in the city of Solan having constructed a composting unit as part of a sustainability education programme. As mentioned already a local NGO EarthJust, which has been working with the support of Wipro Foundation in the district, has been handholding students of St Luke’s for the last two years. Two young environmental activists, Shrey Gupta and Ashish Palyal, have been making this happen. They are working in several other government and private schools as well.
More than two years back, 14 schools in HP had secured a place in the Green Schools Environmental Audit Programme (GSE Audit). Out of these 14 schools, twelve were from Solan district including St Luke’s High School. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, certified them as green schools. At the national level, 172 schools certified as green schools were given awards by CSE’s Director Dr Sunita Narain on February 6, 2020.
St Luke’s didn’t stop after getting the ‘Green School’ tag. It went ahead as its students got involved with a sustainability education programme supported by Wipro Foundation. The St Luke’s campus is rich in biodiversity. It is located in a hilly terrain in Solan city. One can find a lot of mushrooms, flowers and herbs around this campus. Through the NGO EarthJust, Wipro earthian Fellows, Shrey and Ashish, started handholding and creating awareness about sustainability education among students of the school.
They first started exploring the rich biodiversity of their school’s campus, which is full of wild and edible mushrooms, in the monsoon time. In fact, Solan is known for its mushrooms and is called the Mushroom City of India. Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), which is funding the Directorate of Mushroom Research, Solan, celebrated its 25th commemoration day this year on September 11th as having been declared as the Mushroom City of India.
It is important to mention here that HP has two medium to large button mushroom production units that produce approximately 4,700 tonnes of mushrooms per annum. From the early 1960s, mushrooms have been grown in Solan. To create awareness about mushrooms among the younger generation, Shrey and Ashish started taking school students for mushroom walks.
Green Schools Programme audit (GSP audit) is an environmental education programme launched by CSE some years back. This programme aims to audit schools with regard to the use of resources and then maps their consumption and wastage. The GSP audit exercise involves collection of information about Air, Energy, Food, Land and Waste Management.
Assessment is made about the transport policies of schools that affect air quality and to find ways of reducing their emissions so that a citizen’s right to clean air is protected. Energy auditing is done by looking at the sources and consumption of energy in the schools. The audit also explores ways in which this resource can be saved to minimise pollution and the costs.
School canteens are audited to check the quality of the food being served. This encourages students to be more conscious of the kind of food being promoted and consumed. The land use of the school is looked into, to see how many green spaces and biodiversity hubs there are in the campus. With regards to water, conservation measures like rainwater harvesting, water recycling and liquid waste management are examined. Lastly, an audit of solid waste generation is made. Assessment is also made regarding segregation of waste and the composting of organic waste.
I believe that GSP audit is similar to the Swachh Survekshan (Sanitation Survey) conducted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA), Government of India (GoI), since 2016. The Swachh Survekshan is the world’s largest urban sanitation and cleanliness survey. Its primary goal is to encourage large scale citizen participation and create awareness amongst all sections of the society about the importance of working together towards making towns and cities better places to reside in. For the last six times, Indore has been declared as the cleanest city in India.
I would suggest that GSP auditing must be made mandatory for all the schools in the country, so that we have more green schools. This will help in imparting sustainability education to students. It will also foster a spirit of healthy competition among schools to become greener and cleaner through sustainable use of resources.
For the last almost nine years, I have been stressing on in-house composting of organic waste, especially the kitchen waste. I have suggested this to the J&K High Court and Chief Secretary of Government of J&K as well. In-house composting of waste is a must for residential houses. It is very much needed in schools and other educational institutions as well.
As discussed in the beginning, St Luke’s School has started composting its organic waste in a composting unit that has been constructed in the campus. This place serves two purposes. Firstly, the organic waste gets processed inside this compost unit. Secondly, students get to know the process involved in composting organic (biodegradable) waste.
In-house composting of kitchen waste and other organic waste may be a bit challenging for families living in multi-storied apartments and flats. However, for places like Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh or other Himalayan states, where people have some space in front of their houses, processing waste won’t be a challenge at all.
For schools, this is not a challenge. The majority of them have space to create a compost unit. The composting of organic waste can be done even in a 10*10 feet space. Most of the Eco Club members of St Luke’s School Solan assured me during my interaction with them that they would set up compost unit in their houses, so that they are not counted among waste generators but turn out to be waste processors. This is how sustainability education helps.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is also an Anant Fellow for Climate Action.