Spring has sprung. Lodhi Garden is grinning with flowers and bees. And along with the new leaves budding from trees and tender shoots sprouting from the earth, spreading a green veil over dusty Delhi, there are falling leaves. Everywhere. Simply everywhere. Each road, neighborhood, garden and alley has that conspicuous mound of fallen leaves, swept up by a conscientious muncipal worker (an oxymoron, but never mind!).
Delhi residents can take pride in the city being among the greenest metros in the country (there's so little we can take pride in, that this is precious indeed!), but the downside is these mounds leaves that no one knows what to do with. If I got paid for every time I've seen these leaves being set on fire by gardeners, muncipal workers, I would be rich. But instead, I'm poorer, at least in health, as the smoke from the burning cause the PM2.5 levels of particulate matter to rise sharply, adding to the already high levels that Delhi air comprises of, contributed by other sources like vehicular and thermal power emissions, brick kilns and regular trash, biomass and crop burning. What is extra frustrating is that unlike the other sources, over which we have even lesser control, burning of leaves, at least those in our own gardens or neighborhood is definitely something we can actively change. If we had the time and the inclination.
I have the latter, but like most of us, its the former, super-precious resource of time to research the solution to composting leaves that I've been struggling with.
When I lived in California, composting and mulching were key to garden health and I even recall taking a weekend composting class at the local community gardens, an emerald oasis in the concrete suburbia of a small West Coast town, on one side of a road named – what else! - Embarcadero. Suburban farmers tried to grow organic lettuce and tomatoes and learnt the benefits of vermicomposting, breathing in clean air as they dug, watered, hoed, sprinkled and shovelled.
When I moved back to New Delhi, I looked for materials and advice on composting - and drew a complete blank. There were one-off classes on composting for terrace and kitchen garden farmers, some vague literature on urban farming, but nothing substantial. Until I found The Daily Dump, where leaf composting was one piece of the larger solution around recycling and waste management.
But it was another two years before I would find myself drawn again and again to their composting solutions as the simplest and best. And it would be another year before I would get to touch their eco-friendly, mostly terracotta products – at my daughter's new school! - where it all came together.
So here's something I've been researching – because I feel that telling people not to burn leaves or biomass, without offering them an alternative isn't really very effective. Or very fair. You come off sounding like a prescriptive, faintly insolent, psuedo-knowledgeable, semi-paranoid I'm-better-than-you sort of clueless person. And so, I'd like to share with everyone reading this post why I've been recommending leaf composting through The Daily Dump, a Bangalore-based design-led company which aims to reduce waste, improve material recovery and enable better livelihoods through voluntary collective action of urban citizens in an organic and enabling manner.
I like that the Dump helps imagine and re-engineer alternative scenarios that can wholistically and mindfully change behaviour for decentralised waste management in homes, communities, offices and public spaces. I like that their videos are simple and easy to follow. I like that it was started by a woman. I like that that Bangalore-based woman's elderly father was manning her stall at a Delhi school supporting his daughter and the environment at the same time. What was there not to like? Their range of segregation products, composters, books and services reflects their mission to enable all to harm less – and treats waste as a resource.
So if you're serious about your (and your children's) lungs and cognitive function and want to do your drop-in-the-ocean bit to bring down PM2.5 levels, at least in your own vicinity, here's what you need to do.
Go to the Daily Dump website, (http://www.dailydump.org) check out their leaf composting video, if you like its simplicity and feel you can do it, order one – or several (for your neighborhood) from one of the 70 partners they have all over India (there are multiple outlets in Delhi and Gurgaon) and begin. Now. Or this weekend. Or by the end of this month. But soon. Then tell others about it. Maybe convince your school to adopt it. Or your Residents Welfare Association.
And if you have any other options for leaf disposal that you're already using and that have worked well for you – please share! Write to us at careforair.org or just simply comment on this blog post.
We are crowdsourcing simple, workable solutions to begin our own journeys towards reducing PM levels in the cities we live and breathe in. Join us.
Jyoti Pande Lavakare
Jyoti Pande Lavakare is an independent columnist, financial journalist and writer who has lived and worked in Britain, the United States and India, writing for international and Indian publications. In a past life, she produced youth programs for radio and television and her children's fiction appeared in Hachette anthologies. She has a Masters in Economics and currently lives in New Delhi with her husband, teens and a wilting kitchen garden.
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