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Shanthivanam Newsletter - 2

Volume 2, 21 February 2008

Capitalism to Freeganism

When a group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco decided to buy nothing for a year, they unwittingly sparked an international trend. And even before that, Freeganism is a trend practised globally for quite some time now. According to Wikipedia, Freeganism is an anti-consumerism lifestyle whereby people employ alternative living strategies based on "limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. With an exploding social web and a metastasizing network of blogs, this phenomenon is on the rise. Now that's a U-turn from the founding principles of western economy – Capitalism. So, does that mean, with globalization, it's not necessary that capitalism & consumerism spreads. A wishful thought, perhaps.

Freegans' motivations are varied and numerous; some adhere to it for environmental reasons, some for religious & political reasons. But the core conscience is about being cognizant of one's consumption. In our current human ecosystem, the style, structure & management of Consumption and Waste is neither organized nor reasoned properly, and that has led to our current state of environmental issues.

While talking about consumption, the Launch of Tata Nano comes to mind. Rajendra Pachauri has said "In India roads are not well planned and not made in a proper way. They do not support public transport that much and we are increasingly becoming dependant on cars. With the coming in of Rs 1 lakh car, I am having nightmares, I don't know what will happen then," the IPCC chief told a gathering of industry leaders. Well, my view on this topic is, the social perspective takes precedence over others. Ratan Tata is a hero to a nation that sometimes feels starved of heroes. It takes a certain courage to play with the expectations of a huge nation and then stick to the plot and deliver the goods. Beyond its cute look and frugal engineering-driven price tag, its remarkable how team Tata pulled it off in just four years. I think the larger point is the inspirational lamp that the Tata Nano story lights. There are hundreds of challenges in India where the lessons of the Tata Nano can be applied—design innovation, scale efficiency, vendor networking and so on. Am I being blindly patriotic here??


While looking for some good green ecological sanitation process for one of our Shanthivanam projects, I was pleasantly surprised to know that 2008 is the International Year of Sanitation - declared by the UN General Assembly

Talking about green sanitation, it's interesting to note that once the pathogenic organisms are removed from the human excreta, it becomes a very valuable nutrient and enables to close the loop in the nutritional cycle, which is missing in our current sanitation system that is designed during the industrial era. With this year being declared as the International Year of Sanitation (IYS) by the UN, awareness about more green santitation process is underway. Though even today in an urban context, most of the factors that guided the design of the current sanitation systems holds good even after hundreds of years, with the recent technological advancements, it's time to look at the toilet system differently.

The toilet system itself must be thought of, not so much as a disposal system, but as a processing unit. Ecological sanitation represents a shift in thinking about and acting upon human excreta.

At present, each year more than 200 million tonnes of human waste – and vast quantities of waste water and solid waste – go uncollected and untreated around the world, fouling the environment and exposing millions of people to disease and squalor. Soil can provide the all-important link between the toilet system and agriculture. In the soil-composting systems, soil is added to the toilet in quantity – approximately equal to the volume of solid excreta added. And for best results, the added soil should be combined with wood ash and leaves. The added soil, together with its companion ash and leaves, converts, purifies and otherwise hastens the conversion of the foul and dangerous mass of excreta into humus, which becomes pleasant to handle, relatively safe and is rich in nutrients. The process is entirely biological, with beneficial organisms of all kinds tending to thrive and pathogenic organisms tending to die out. The end result of this natural process is a valuable humus-like soil, which can be used to enhance the growth of both trees and vegetables. Excreta, soil, ash and leaves are abundant and cost nothing. In combination and when processed they have great value.

Well, Toilets may seem like an unlikely catalyst for human progress—but the evidence that they are is overwhelming. Almost everyone living in the developed world has access to a private, flush toilet served by a continuous supply of piped water—with taps and toilets in close proximity. Human waste is channelled by pipes into sewerage systems and treatment facilities, ensuring that drinking water is separated from the pathogens carried in faecal material. Meanwhile, taps located in sanitation facilities enable people to maintain personal hygiene. But at the other end of the sanitation spectrum are the millions of people forced to defecate in bags, buckets, fields or roadside ditches. If the developed country model were the benchmark, the number of people lacking sanitation would be far higher than that recorded by World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) data and the global deficit would soar from 2.6 billion people to about 4 billion

Sanitation systems should be designed to mimic ecosystems in that the "waste" of humans is a resource for micro-organisms that help produce plants and food. Second, ecological sanitation is an approach that destroys pathogens near where people excrete them. This makes reuse of excreta safer and easier than treatment of wastewater that often fails to capture the nutrients it transports to downstream communities. Third, ecological sanitation does not use water, or very little water, and is therefore a viable alternative in water scarce areas. Fourth, ecological sanitation can provide hygienic and convenient services at a much lower cost than conventional sanitation, and therefore, should be considered both in developing and developed countries.

"Sanitation is not a dirty word; it is a critical factor in human welfare and sustainable development," says Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. "We need to put the spotlight on this silent crisis."


Anonymous said…
Good point, though sometimes it's hard to arrive to definite conclusions

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