The Optimist Citizen

Two teenaged Eco crusaders who are saving every drop of waste water in restaurants in Bengaluru

“If you can direct one person to make a difference, you can practically help in ploughing a path for everyone to make a difference”, said Pooja, suddenly setting a profound tone within her otherwise cheery narration of co-founding a youth-driven, waste and water management initiative named ‘Why Waste?’ in Bangalore. Pooja S Tanawade and Garvita Gulhati are friends since 14 years and have just graduated from the National Public School, Koramangala. Pooja is a public speaker; Garvita has a senior Diploma in Kathak, has mastered calligraphy and both have a deep fondness for dance. But these are just a precursor to the larger ambition of the duo. They have not only managed to raise awareness of water conservation and waste recycling in nearly 130 odd restaurants in 4 cities of India, but have also developed system embedded in common sense for a desired shift in perception and practices of paying customers.

It all began two years ago when an NGO gave a presentation about water conservation on Environment Day at their school. A particular slide showed that about 14 million litres of water is wasted just from restaurant glasses every year. Blatantly shocked by the fact, the teenagers decided to take matters into their own hand. They managed to elicit a positive response and general compliance from local restaurants when they pointed out that providing extra refills and indiscriminate waste disposal harms the environment and are also bad business practices. However, they had to put a pin on the waste management component in their agenda when they couldn’t remove a huge dumping ground behind their school building. The locals were apathetic to it and their seniors and teachers previously failed to shut it down. Undeterred, the girls started collecting data, finding precedent and conducting research to launch their initiative.

But, to achieve water conservation, some rudimentary archaic procedures came into the way. A 19th century law which demanded free access to water for all customers in a restaurant and the absurd reliance of modern rating systems on, among other things, “fullness” of glasses irrespective of customer’s need, cumulatively drove the lack of awareness and excessive water wastage in our times. Therefore, for conservation, they proposed to reuse leftover water for kitchen gardens, encouraged customers to pour their own water, kept bottled water on tables, introduced half-marked glasses (glasses that are half-way marked with quirky quotes that point to consequences of wastage) and hung posters and small cards on tables. They also did a thorough research on how to convert organic waste to compost/fertilizer. That not only included data on the duration of composting, the types of waste, soil and bacteria used for it but also a competitive pricing strategy. In a workshop organized by Ashoka – a global non-profit investor for social entrepreneurs – they showcased their findings and networked with many private organizations, ultimately landing a deal with Saahas. The holistic waste management NGO helped them reduce the price of disposal by a margin of Rs. 600 per restaurant per month which was used to leverage deals with nearly 15 restaurants in and around JNC, Koramangala. “We have to make our waste a resource”, they said reflecting on their current success. They want to bridge the gap between waste collection and dutiful disposal since there are 6 to 7 waste processing centres lying underutilized around the city.

Garvita in a restaurant with half-marked glasses

But to their credit, nearly four restaurants have adopted half-marked glasses; about six restaurants have started keeping bottled water and the numbers keep growing. Garvita’s grandmother has also managed to convince ten restaurants in Delhi to put up quirky posters with environmental messages. Not only this, both these girls have managed to visit over 130 restaurants across 4 cities in India to raise awareness about water wastage. The girls are now planning new ways to deliver their message to a broader audience. Publishing cartoons with moral messages in yearbooks and various school papers, including student-centric editions of Times of India, Deccan Herald, and The Hindu, is one of them.  Extremely reluctant to claim exclusivity on this idea, Pooja and Garvita are both insistent that everyone should derive from and emulate their model. And their journey has only begun.

Garvita and the team at Why Waste are now running a petition to save Bengaluru from running out of water. This petition will be sent to National Restaurants Authority of India and the Restaurant Owners of the city with a request to adopt the methodologies to save water. By signing this campaign you will help the world in saving millions of litres of water.
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