RETHINK – The perfect Strategy to Unfix the Waste Management Fix

                                  Our country’s waste management system is in a fix – huge stinking garbage mounds have started dotting our cities’ landscape in many places, fast emerging as prominent landmarks for the newly expanded part of the cities and rapidly turning into attractive real estate properties for our bloody friends – the mosquitoes. Yet still, each one of us go about our usual daily chore of cleaning our house and packing all of the generated waste in a black carry bag to be handed over to the garbage guy, believing that he/she along with our government will ensure that the waste is disposed of in a proper manner. The reality though appears to be far further from our belief. India generates a whopping 1.5 lakh metric ton of solid waste every day, out of which a meagre 25 per cent is processed (the word processed here refers to the recycling, composting methods as well as the not so environment-friendly incineration and waste to energy technologies). So considering the technologies such as the incineration and waste to energy as undesirable, the actual quantity of waste processed in a proper manner would still be very much less than 25 percent (also considering government statistics are mostly fudged to give a positive image, the actual percentage could still well be below the actual figures). And a majority of this processing is done by the informal sector which is least controlled by the government. The problem just doesn’t end here as India’s waste generation is set to witness an exponential growth of 2.5 times in the next 7-8 years with a projected solid waste generation of 3.75 lakh metric ton a day. Tamil Nadu generates 15,000 metric ton of waste a day, the second highest amongst the Indian states while Chennai alone generates approximately around 4500 to 5000 metric tons of solid waste every day with the highest per capita waste generation (900-1000 grams of waste per person per day) amongst the major Indian cities – a shocking statistic that would put our culture conscious singara Chennai population to shame. The situation doesn’t seem rosy for the Indian waste management system in spite of the recent efforts of the government to promote sanitation and cleanliness through the much hyped and advertised initiative – Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, as very little work seems to be happening on the ground.
We could still discuss a lot on the problems plaguing the current waste management system but it would still be a futile exercise as most of us know about these but consciously choose to ignore. Whenever you ask the general public about their thoughts on waste management, a majority of the crowd would unanimously suggest “waste segregation and recycling” as their green mantra to manage the generated waste. So the general mindset is to still think waste management as a means to deal with the generated waste rather than thinking as to how this ended up as a waste or what could have been done to stop this waste generation. So it’s just a matter of mind or the Rethink philosophy which could serve as the perfect tool to tackle this ever-growing menace.
Image: Waste Management Hierarchy pyramid
The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it, as long as you really believe 100 per cent” – Arnold Schwarzenegger.
                                     Rethink is one amongst the several R’s which make up the ‘waste management hierarchy pyramid’ – a widely used principle to manage waste. Rethink is the first and the most preferred option in the waste management hierarchy ahead of the much talked about options such as reduce, reuse and recycle. The well-known phrase “mind over matter” serves as the perfect testimony to the importance of rethink over other R’s in the hierarchy.
Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) Syndrome:
“There is no such thing as “away.” When we throw anything away it must go somewhere– Annie Leonard.
                                              This is a common crowd behaviour that is witnessed across the globe wherein people who generate the waste want them to be taken away far off from their place for processing or disposal. All these years, countries like US, Japan and their European counterparts thought it was cheaper to put all their trash on a ship and send to foreign countries like China to be taken care of until this year, when China decided to ban the import of a list of certain waste categories. This has put the waste management sectors of these countries in a fix as they are ill prepared to deal with the huge quantities of waste on their own. This is the situation in our country as well wherein people are happy to send these waste to landfills situated in the rural areas on the cities’ outskirts. This “out of sight out of mind” view of the general public has been the sole reason for the lack of a strong people’s movement for proper waste management implementation and the subsequent lethargic attitude of successive governments towards the issue. So a general awareness on where our waste ends up and how it impacts the surroundings there, both humans as well as other life forms would bring a greater self-responsibility amongst us to manage the waste on our own as well as push the government towards a sustainable disposal of the generated waste.
Everything is a resource:
“Everything has its own value but not everyone sees it”Unknown.
                                              Almost 95% of the waste that we generate at home is a resource but we have failed to understand this due to our distorted view of terming something as a ‘waste’ if it is of no use to us. Through proper segregation, 50-60% of the waste that comprises of wet, biodegradable items can be converted to manure by composting and the remaining 45-35 % that comprises of dry items can be converted into new products by recycling. The age-old adage – “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, teaches the importance of finding an alternate use for one’s waste that can be achieved only, if one has the willingness to reach it to the person of need. The age-old tradition of donating our clothes, books, unused notebooks, toys to NGOs, schools or children in need is a classic example of passing on items of value to others, rather than ending up in landfills.
My Right My waste:
“There is enough in this world for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed” – Gandhi.
                                                  People who have money feel that it’s their right to convert an item into waste without using it to its potential, as they have paid for it. This attitude has been one of the major drivers behind the greedy consumerism and irresponsible waste generation & disposal. E.g.: In the past, clothes were generally used and reused for generations before it got worn out completely and ended up in landfills but in the recent times, they are looked at as a luxury and end up in the dustbins after minimal usage, making it the second largest polluter on our planet. About 40 per cent of the food produced across the globe ending up in landfills, is yet another shocking example for the savage consumerist and materialistic behaviour of humans that could well be the death knell for the human survival on earth. ‘Buy less or when required, Reuse as much as possible, if else repair or repurpose for reuse, otherwise recycle” should be the sole motto of our everyday behaviour that could help us repair the catastrophic damage that is already done to our mother earth.
My Waste My responsibility:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks about changing themselves” – Unknown.
                                                         Everyone wants their surrounding and country to be clean like the western countries but nobody wants to emulate the behaviour of his or her western counterparts who segregate with care, pay for waste disposal and question government’s environmental policies. If each of us adopt and practice “My Waste, My Responsibility” as our green mantra, then we could understand the negative impacts of the increased waste generation and would act accordingly to reduce it. “Everyone is his own scavenger, said Gandhi reiterating the need for each of us to accept the responsibility for the waste that we generate and ensure that others don’t suffer due to it. Through his writings and action, the Bapu wanted to stop people from preaching others about cleanliness and instead set an example for others through their action. It’s time for the sons and daughters of the Mahatma (I mean Us) to put into practice the teachings of the great man so that this land reclaims its position as the spiritual capital of the world.
Move ahead with the times:
“எவ்வ துறைவது உலகம் உலகத்தோடு அவ்வ துறைவ தறிவ (To live as the world lives, is wisdom)” – Thirukkural.
                                                      Few decades back, the general advice given to people regarding waste management was to avoid littering in public places and throw the waste in the dustbins, which is more of a reactive approach towards waste management. This has transformed into a more proactive approach in recent times wherein people are asked to segregate and process their waste through recycling and composting methods. Taking this one step further, the last few years has witnessed people moving towards a sustainable lifestyle, wherein they don’t just process their waste but constantly try to find ways to stop or reduce the generation of such waste. The sad reality is that this is followed by just a minority whereas a vast majority of the crowd is still stuck in time not able to even throw their waste into dustbins, forget making them segregate or adopting sustainable practices. It’s time for people to move ahead with the times and consider moving towards a green-friendly lifestyle as not just an option but a mandate if they want to lead a healthy life in the future.
Talk less, Do more:
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it – Robert Swan.
                                                The recent times has witnessed a huge surge in the quantity of information posted on the internet and social media about the adoption of environment-friendly choices. At least if a section of this self-proclaimed green warrior netizens have put their posts into real practice, the world would still have been a cleaner and healthier place. The habit of politicians doing clean-up just for the sake of photo-ops has rubbed onto the general public who are happy to post pictures of their one-time practices such as beach cleanup, bring your own mug selfies etc., but never want to make this as a practice as part of their daily lifestyle. People should realize that “Being green is more than just buying ‘eco’. It is an unshakeable commitment to a sustainable life”. NGOs are also finding this green space an attractive proposition to get greater traction and funding through social media, with very few doing actual meaningful work on the ground and a vast majority just work for greater attention on social media through more likes and followers.
“Recycling is a good thing to do. It makes people feel good to do it. The thing I want to emphasize is the vast difference between recycling for the purpose of feeling good and recycling for the purpose of solving the trash problem” – Barry Commoner.
People should understand that doing an act for the sake of doing it is futile. So, less talk and more action on the ground is required to make the waste management system work and it’s time for the public to hit the streets and get their hands dirty.
Owning Less is Great but Wanting Less is Better:
“Going back to a simpler life is not a step backward” – Yvon Chouinard.
                                        There is a general public sentiment that the traditional, chaotic and simple minimalistic lifestyle doesn’t provide an wholesome happy experience, which has lead to the adoption of resource-exploiting, nature-plundering modern, so-called organized and materialistic living. The exploration of life on other planets when our own earth has so much to offer is a classic example for humans’ height of stupidity. Waste management concepts like Make, Share, Borrow, Rent, Swap, Donate, Thrift, Repair which were an integral part of our old lifestyle has been given a negative connotation in today’s world that has resulted in the exploitation of our natural resources and gross mismanagement of waste. The increasing popularity and usage of single-use disposables such as the plastic plates, cups, spoons, carry bags, straws etc., in the name of convenience has put the lives of several animals such as our holy cows, marine life such as turtles, fishes as well as that of humans at risk. The culture of buying more just to get small discounts, cash-backs, freebies or gifts shows the gullibility of humans to be manipulated by the capitalist marketing gimmicks. This muck doesn’t stop here as this foolish behaviour of humans is passed on to the subsequent generations who grow up into spending bigger than their parents. Recent studies suggest that India’s consumer spending has been on the rise and is set to become the world’s third largest consumer market by 2025 with the children group contributing in a major way to the notorious growth of these numbers. It’s time to stem the rot and ensure that the future generations, i.e., our children are at least shielded from this vociferous spending behaviour.
                                  To put it in a nutshell, the worst thing for earth is the fact that ‘humans are stupid’ but the silver lining is that they’re smart enough to know it and understand. So it’s just a matter of time, before humans start realizing that they are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel whereas they have a torch in hand which could provide the same light that they require. As this Chinese proverb suggests – When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills”, instead of building bigger and more, humans should realize that they could get the same happiness from simpler and small things, provided they change their perspective on what happiness is all about. Change is always terrifying but it could be better handled if we embrace it by taking small steps at a time using the waste management hierarchy pyramid, rather than making huge leaps.
“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world” – Howard Zinn.
“Minimalism had to be born, not out of a mere spur-of-the-moment idea or yearning for a new lifestyle, but from an earnest desire and fervent need to rethink our lives” – Fumio Sasaki.
So with a little effort, imagination and planning, this cancerous crisis of stinking garbage can be brought down on its knees. So Rethink, rethink, rethink, it’s possible…

The China waste ban – A cause for concern to India?

                                          “It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that really change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.” 
                    ― Neil Gaiman in Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

china waste ban

Even though I have heard the word “Chaos theory” few times in the past, I got a first-hand thorough understanding of the theory while watching the Tamil movie – Dasavathaaram, The movie details the story of a scientist trying to save the world from a biological weapon/virus and how other characters, unrelated, help him achieve this, including a Vishnu idol sunk into the sea during the 13th century that triggers the earth quake resulting in a tsunami, thereby offsetting the impact of the released biological weapon.

I am not a big fan of the theory until recently, when I started my own waste management business named Trashgaadi that was involved in the collection of dry waste recyclables for recycling from households in Chennai. I always believed (most of others would corroborate as well) the Indian recycling market to be localized and informal and completely shielded from the impact of the global market changes but I was completely wrong about it. At the start of this year, China banned the import of certain waste categories from foreign countries and it has created a ripple effect across the Chinese domestic recycling market as well as on the other waste management sectors across the globe, including India. Well seems like the chaos theory is at work. Read on to get a better understanding as to why it so.

All these years, countries like US, Japan and their European counterparts thought it was cheaper to put all their trash on a ship and send to foreign countries like China to be taken care of, rather than putting efforts on processing the waste on their own. During that time, China, as a developing country, thought of recycling world’s trash as an opportunity to keep its growing population engaged with work and became a sought after destination for the world’s recyclable trash. To put things in perspective, consider this data; during 1988 to 2016, the world’s richest countries such as US, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Germany and Canada contributed 75% (170 million metric tonne) of the world’s plastic waste exports to other countries, out of which almost 45 to 50 percentage was imported by China for further processing. According to government statistics, China imported a staggering 49.6 million tonnes of rubbish in 2015 alone. The last couple of decades have witnessed a huge surge in the Chinese economy, which in turn has boosted the living standards of the Chinese that they don’t want to be the world’s dump yard anymore. So starting this year 2018, China had banned the import of a list of 24 waste categories, including some plastic and paper types and is planning to include few other categories to the list by the end of next year. It has also proposed to include a complete ban on the import of all waste categories by the end of 2021 so that they can work on improving their infrastructure for the collection and recycling of domestic waste.

This “not in my backyard (NIMBY) syndrome” of western countries has put their waste management sectors in a fix as they are ill prepared to deal with the huge quantities of waste on their own. So now all these countries have to recycle so much quantity of this trash and since they don’t have the appropriate facilities for processing it, they would have to either send it to their own landfills or incinerate. Or else they could look for other countries to fill in China’s shoes and this is exactly what has happened. Since the china ban, the focus has shifted towards the south East Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India but filling the gap left by China could still be a challenge for these countries as they don’t have the required infrastructure to process such a huge volume. The US waste exports to these countries have already witnessed growth rates in the range of 170% to 300% in Q1 2018 when compared to Q1 2017, according to data from PIERS of In terms of volumes, India recorded the highest growth with a total volume of 70,550 TEUs (TEU = Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit, a measure of ship’s cargo carrying capacity) in Q1 2018 at a growth rate of 170% Vs Q1 2017. India’s market share rose to 21.7 percent while China’s fell to 47% in the same time period. The A.P. Moller – Maersk’s trade report  for Q1 2018 corroborates this data as it found that recyclables such as paper and metal have witnessed import growth rates of 61% and 55% respectively Vs last year in India and a major portion of the waste came from North America and Europe. These data clearly shows that India is becoming the new hub for recycling world’s waste.

The problem just doesn’t end here. One of the strong reasons why China put a ban was the contamination that was there as part of the imported waste which cannot be recycled and hence dumped in landfills, thus polluting their environment. As part of the ban, China also announced that the waste categories that it will still accept have to meet the contamination standard of just 0.5%, which the western countries are struggling to meet as they are used to having contamination in their exported waste stock piles. China has put in place a strong quality check process in place at their ports that has resulted in majority of these stocks refused entry due to their high contamination levels and finally being sent to India and South East Asian countries due to the lack of rules restricting their import. This is again going to pose a major challenge for India which is already grappling with managing the huge quantities of waste produced domestically.

Just after few months from the china ban taking into effect, the south East Asian countries have been finding it difficult to manage the imported waste getting into their ports and some have already contemplated to follow the foot-steps of China even if it means a loss to their economy. Vietnam has temporarily banned the waste imports since July 2018, unable cope up with the traffic congestion at their ports due to the waste ban. Thailand has also put a ban of the plastic waste imports since June this year citing negative public sentiment and to protect its own environment and plans to ban waste imports completely by 2021. The last country to join this bandwagon is Malaysia which has put a permanent ban on the import of plastic waste effective from 26th of October after complaints from the general public about the opening up of many illegal recycling units which burned plastic waste that cannot be recycled.

Contrary to their Asian counterparts on the waste imports, India’s response has been muted so far and a recent press release from the Indian government which proposed a policy framework to standardize and improve the infrastructure of recycling industry in India, has been welcomed with a sigh of hope by the international waste exporters. The problem doesn’t just stop with the foreign waste coming into our country and polluting our land, water and air but how it impacts the local recyclables market as well. The wholesalers or processors would be able to get plastic or other scraps at a cheaper price from the imports due to the china ban, thereby reducing the demand for the locally produced waste. The local markets have already been hit by the ban as the buying prices of certain recyclable categories such as OCC (Old Corrugated Cardboard or carton box), mixed paper and certain plastic types have reduced by 30 to 60 % since the last 6-8 months owing to the decreased price of these in the world markets and the increased import by India. The kabadiwallahs, scrap shops, private waste collectors and the rag pickers, who constitute the lower levels of the recycling value chain, have been hit the hardest by the change. The business which has already seen many setbacks over the past few years like the drop in crude oil price in 2015 (leads to reduced virgin/new plastic price as it is derived during petroleum processing, thereby resulting in reduced price for used plastics), note demonetization in late 2016 and the GST roll out during July 2017. Just when the industry was trying to bounce back from all these hurdles, the china waste ban has only worsened the situation. Unlike the western countries, the waste management sector in India is so unorganized and informal that getting the attention of the government when such changes occur is either delayed or not done at all, resulting in the worsening of livelihoods of the people working in the sector.

India produces a staggering 26,000 tonnes of plastic every day and an astonishing 56 % of this is recycled, according to a reply given by Anil Madhav Dave, former Union environment minister, in the parliament in 2016. This is mainly due to the efforts of the rag-pickers, a critical part of the invisible informal sector, who work under hazardous conditions in landfills and street garbage bins to sort through the unsegregated waste (wet+dry+sanitary wastes) and salvage whatever is possible of value for recycling. So, the Indian government needs to ensure that these rag-pickers and others involved in the lower rungs of the informal recycling chain are shielded from the impact of this waste ban so that more waste is kept out of the landfills.

Replying to a question in the parliament, Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change mentioned the lack of data on the capacity to recycle plastic waste in India, with the government unaware about the number of unregistered and registered plastic recycling plants. So allowing such import of foreign waste without a long term plan and proper data could prove dangerous to India and will only bring more harm to its environment and local recycling market.

The crowd mentality and why we should be worried???

“Truth is like poetry. And most people f****** hate poetry.”

This is a line from the movie – “The Big short” (not a crowd favorite) that I watched recently and this line sums up the whole essence of the movie and the typical mindset of the majority crowd in today’s world. The movie is about a small group of investors who bet against the US housing market during the 2000s when the entire financial sector and the US population was feeling upbeat about its growth. This handful of people have the last laugh as the US housing market indeed collapse and lead to the great financial crisis in 2008. These men made huge profits on their bets ironically at a time when a majority of the US population had to lose jobs, homes and pushed into poverty due to the crisis. The movie evidently showcases an interesting psychological phenomenon – “Crowd or Herd mentality”, which is witnessed in various populations across the globe.

herd mentality

Fig. 1: Crowd or Herd mentality

Study hard in school, enroll in an engineering/ medical degree, get a nice job, get married, have a family, buy a house, put your children in a good school and start the cycle all over again – this typical mindset which defines the lifestyle of every Indian serves as a classic case of crowd mentality. We experience a lot of such thoughts in our day today lives – private schools offer better education than government schools, product prices are at the lowest during festive season, pay bribe to get a job done at the government offices, working in a gym could keep us healthy, buying jewels is a good strategy to save money and the list goes on. Are we really correct about all these behavior, well, it depends on the situation but the most important aspect is that we are definitely wrong about some of these assumption and could end up losing a lot if we don’t tread a  new path. In the movie, the American crowd believed the housing market to be strong inspite of some glaring shortcomings and the red flags raised by this small group of investors, ending up in deeper debts. So as the title says, should we all be worried about this crowd mentality behavior of ours?  Let’s find out.

Let’s face it. We live in a command-based system, where we have been programmed since our earliest school years to become followers, not individuals. We have been conditioned to embrace teams, the herd, the masses, popular opinion — and to reject what is different, eccentric or stands alone. We are so programmed that all it takes for any business or authority to condition our minds to follow or buy something is to simply repeat a statement more than three or four times until we repeat it ourselves and follow it as truth or the best trendiest thing. This is called “programming” — the frequent repetition of words to condition us how to think, what to like or dislike, and who to follow.”

             ― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

The above quote neatly summarizes the attitude of a typical crowd – A crowd generally has a leader (depending on the situation – could be a political/social/religious leader, patriarch) leading the pack followed by varied sets of groups who are programmed socially to move with the crowd and not to raise any questions or doubts about their organized unity. And then there are the minor rational voices within the crowd who like to break away and question the need for their programmed unity, only to let their voices muzzled by the moral lecturing of the emotional majority. The minority, over a period of time, starts to blend in with the crowd, thereby rendering an absolute majority to the crowd with virtually little opposition that could save them from this boring routine.

There are two psychological aspects which make this crowd behavior a risky affair which I have tried to explain below using some examples from the same movie.

Informational Asymmetry

It’s a term that is commonly used to explain transactions wherein one party has more or better information that the other. In the movie, the small group of investors had forecasted the crisis much ahead of the others by careful analysis of the financial data and on ground research of the same. They had information which the general public lacked and if given due attention by the financial institutions, could have minimized the loss due to the crisis. This is very much the reason for the crowd mentality as much of such valuable information rests with the experts of each field or those in power that they use it to their advantage for fooling the gullible crowd. A typical Indian example is the feeling that products are sold at a lesser price during festive season but the reality is that the retailers (particularly the online retailers) have made us believe so through their repeated, targeted, sleazy advertisements and cash savings in the form of so-called discounts. These retailers are armed with various details about the product which creates the perfect informational asymmetry between the retailers and the product buyers, thereby giving the advantage for the retailers to cheat the buying crowd. To understand in detail about such festival offers and how we get fooled, read this article.

Moral hazard

It’s a type of transaction between two parties – Principal and Agent wherein the agent works on behalf of the principal and gets into a risky transaction knowing that it is protected from the risk whereas the agent is set to bear the cost of the risk. The outcome of the risky situation turns out to be beneficial for the agent and the no risk clause makes it even more attractive for the concerned party to take the risk. In the movie, when the minority investor group raises red flags about the market to some of the top executives of the financial institutions, they are looked at with disdain. None of the executives even do a fact-check as they were making a lot of money in the form of incentives and turned a blind eye towards the crisis that were unfolding right in front of them. The financial institutions (agent) which were supposed to protect the investment of the US population (Principal) instead choose to make its executives’ rich and ignored the shortcoming in the market as they have not much to lose compared to the US crowd. Some typical examples of this would include the Politicians Vs Voters, Banking institutions Vs investors and Insurance Company Vs insurers. The Satyam scandal which rocked the Indian IT industry few years back is yet another glaring example of this phenomenon.

Michael Shermer in his book The Believing Brain calls the human brain a belief engine which forms the belief first and then finds confirmatory evidence to support the belief. Businesses and law makers have been exploiting this human weakness and crowd mentality to take advantage and gain maximum benefit at the expense of our downfall. Having a thorough knowledge about the psychological aspects such as the 10th man rule, decentralized decision-making, informational asymmetry and moral hazard could help us overcome the limitations of our brain and herd behavior. It’s important that we think out of the box while making critical decisions in life and not to go with the conventional wisdom/ crowd or more importantly, not to have blind-faith in the so-called experts.

Looking at these examples, herd mentality might seem to be downright scary and negative but all is not lost because of such behavior. A lot of popular people’s movements like the Jallikattu protests in Chennai during 2017 and plenty of technological advancements have been possible due to the crowd behavior. So next time when you are in a situation where you are influenced by the herd mentality, please make a 360 degree thorough evaluation of the decision at hand and do what you think is right, even if it is against the will of the majority in the crowd.

Sheep all together, cars all together, people all together, crows all together, ants all together! Everywhere is full of herds! To breath comfortably, to feel free, to think better and to find the beauties of the unknown paths leave your herd! In whichever herd you are in, leave it!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

Life is for those that deserve it. Those kings amongst men who can climb out of barrels and will dare to break through glass walls and to transcend all of this whatever it is, these eyes to the ground, this pretence, acting only as is expected and never as is intended. We have been told what is acceptable in what situation and so we take heed. This is not living. In the real world, in nature, there is no need to pretend. There is no place for it.
― Oli Anderson in Synchronesia: A Depressing Existential Novel

To Be or Not to Be – The Recycling Conundrum

“Be the change you want to see in this world”

These words of bapu has remained one of the widely used quotes in the world of social service and I have personally used this in each of my awareness sessions on waste management since ages. With regards to clean/ green India, this quote has been more of a cliche statement, serving its purpose merely on paper and speeches as we could still see untreated sewage being let off into our water bodies, people throwing garbage onto the street corners, urination and open defecation in public places and much more. But as taxpaying citizens, we still want India to be clean and green just like US and western countries but we don’t want to be the one to make that change happen. We could still see politicians taking their brooms and hitting the streets to clean the already cleaned streets just for photo-op in the name of “Swachh bharat abhiyan”, yet another over-used and -advertised word in the recent few years with less meaningful work happening on the ground. This time-tested photo-op strategy would again play out on the streets of various parts of India on the eve of Gandhi Jayanthi, ironically on the birthday of a man who would’ve believed very little in photo-op and advertisement strategies and more focus on co-coordinating real action on the ground.

A friend of mine who was visiting India recently after working in the US for 10 years felt bad about the over-flowing street garbage bins and the stagnant status-quo of waste management in India. He ended his long-boring speech about the sorry state of waste management in our country in a pessimistic tone, further drawing comparison with US and European countries. As he boasted on, I could imagine him to be a westerner degrading my country just like the countless Hollywood movies which have projected Dharavi slums, poor peasants, barren agricultural lands and traffic laden narrow streets to be the face of India in their movies. I would have the same opinion just like my friend, if not for my experience in running a waste management business in Chennai for the last 3 years. I decided to explain him few things so that he can understand that the problem of waste management isn’t only confined to India and why developed countries like US and Europe should also be worried about its future on waste management.

All these years, the rich US and European countries thought it was cheaper to put all their trash on a ship and send to foreign countries like china to be taken care of, rather than putting efforts on processing the waste on their own. During that time, China, as a developing country, thought of recycling world’s trash as an opportunity to keep its growing population engaged with work. But with the growth in trade, China’s economy has improved a lot all these years, that it doesn’t want to be the world’s dump yard anymore and so has put a ban on the import of foreign waste starting this year. This “not in my backyard (NIMBY) syndrome” of western countries has put their waste management sectors in a fix as they are ill prepared to deal with the waste on their own. To put things in perspective, consider this data; during 1988 to 2016, the world’s richest countries such as US, Japan, Germany, UK, France, Germany and Canada contributed 75% (170 million metric tonne) of the world’s plastic waste exports to other countries, out of which almost 45 to 50 percentage was imported by China for further processing. So now all these countries have to recycle so much quantity of this trash on their own and since they don’t have the appropriate facilities for processing it, they have either started to send it to their own landfills or incineration.

Does that mean that these countries have not done enough in terms of waste management just like ours? The answer is no, it’s just that they don’t have enough facility for recycling which is only a part of the problem. What these countries have done better than ours is that they have put a robust system and policies in place to ensure that the waste is segregated at source, collected by the local corporation or private agencies, sorted further at the recovery facility to be taken for further processing, which are some of the challenging steps in the waste management process. They also have an effective system of pay for waste disposal model in place for the customers so that the onus rests on the waste generator rather than the processor.

Another country which is considered to be a pioneer in waste management in the recent years is Sweden, which processes 99 percent of their domestic waste and at a point of time had to import waste from other countries as they started running short of garbage to keep their plants running. The dark truth behind the country’s success is attributed towards its notion to consider incineration (waste to energy technology) as recycling which is not so. According to EPA estimates, incineration is found to release 1.3 times more CO2 than coal-burning and also many other toxins such as dioxins. These plants in Sweden are so costly to build and maintain that keeping it idle for a short time could affect its viability and hence they have to find garbage domestically or get it elsewhere to keep these plants running. Fail to do this, they could lose a lot of money and that explains why Sweden imports garbage from other countries. Sweden sends a whopping 50% percent of their waste for incineration leaving them very little for recycling, it lags behind a lot of other countries in recycling and that’s a statistic that they wouldn’t feel great about.

So the lesson for each one of us is to check the facts before we jump to any conclusion and that the problem is universal and not restricted to India only. As Indians, we have a long way to go in changing the face of waste management in India and how to get there will require the herculean effort of government agencies, private organizations, NGOs, Companies (CSR) and citizens working in tandem. Like other developed countries, the people in India also suffer from the “not in my backyard” syndrome and leave the waste to be taken care by the local municipal bodies. There is complete lack of at-source segregation and management of solid waste, but surprisingly India’s recycling rate stands strong at 56% for all recyclables and 70% for used plastics. This is mainly due to the efforts of the rag-pickers, a critical part of the invisible informal sector, who work under hazardous conditions in landfills and street garbage bins to sort through the unsegregated waste (wet+dry+sanitary wastes) and salvage whatever is possible of value for recycling.

The greatest irony is we want our country to be on par with countries like US or Japan but don’t want to emulate the action of their citizens who segregate judiciously, pay for waste disposal or recycling and question government’s environmental policies. We don’t even want to get down from our vehicles when throwing the plastic covers laden with mixed waste in the garbage bins and sometimes even throw it outside the bin for the workers to pick it up with bare hands to be thrown into the bin. We are so cost conscious that we want to be paid the maximum for our dry waste, irrespective of the value they possess. I have witnessed customers bargaining with registered private companies to pay Rs.1 to 2 per kg higher than the normal kabadiwallahs and still they want everything to be recycled, including the low value recyclables. The need of hour is a change in the Indian mindset that paying for waste management services, like that in the developed countries, is very vital to the success of having an efficient waste management system here. This is  very much evident in the lack of major private players in the waste management space as they find it difficult to earn as much profits like their foreign counterparts and hence couldn’t scale up to serve on a much larger geographical scale. This lack of a formal business system and major private players, in turn, lead to greater impact on the local markets when government policies or global markets change like the drop in crude oil prices 2 years back (lead to a decrease in the price of used plastics), Note-ban, Demonetization and waste ban by China recently. The workers at the lowest levels of waste management stream are hit the greatest due to these changes with decreased or unpaid daily wages and no work.

We blame so much about the government’s insensitivity towards the waste management crisis but none of us want to believe that we are also the reason for this crisis and our active participation and awareness about day-to-day happenings in the waste management world, including the government policies, could help a long way in solving this cancerous crisis. Reverting to Gandhi’s quote about change, he wasn’t talking only about our attitude towards the external uncleanliness but also meant about the cleanliness of our inner soul/ mind so that we realize ourselves as a part of this problem and act responsibly as an individual and a citizen to do our bit towards solving this. “Everyone is his own scavenger”, said Gandhi reiterating the fact that each and everyone is responsible for their generated waste and should ensure that others don’t suffer due to it. There is also a message for the western countries to stop sending the waste to other countries for processing and also for the rich people residing in urban cities in India, dumping their wastes into the rural landfills with economically poor people residing nearby. Through his writings and personal life, Gandhiji was very keen to eradicate the unclean image attached to India by westerners and wanted to stop them from preaching us about cleanliness. Now it is up to each and every one of us to not only just keep preaching on the teachings of Gandhi but also act on them.

To end with, segregate and dispose your waste in a responsible manner and show some respect for the people who clean the waste for us. Also remember to act in real, the change that you want to see than just merely dictating in words.

To know more about waste management and recycling, please visit our website TrashGaadi.

The Art of learning – Why Big Boss contestants never learn

With the Tamil Big Boss-2 show reaching the climax stage (should have the winner announced when you read this), the controversies due to the fights & issues within the house and the surprise exit of stronger candidates like Yashika, Daniel, Balaji has raised more than eye brows among the public about the show’s lack of authenticity. Another frequently discussed aspect of the show is about the experience being part of the show and the learning that one gets out of it. But let’s pause for a moment and think whether this is true? Trust me; it is not and what we get to see or hear is a marketing gimmick to give a larger than life image to the show, so that they could make good profits on their huge investments in the show. The contestants who were part of the show get more opportunities and fame afterwards, but very little happens on the learning front. The reason I say so is that the process of learning is a longer one, that it’s impossible to turn around on a behavior just in a matter of days. To learn why it is so, please do read further…

One could understand a lot about learning or how to learn a new skill/ lesson by studying this simple, but an effective technique known as Conscious competency model which is believed to be developed from the principles of Abraham Maslow. This model details the different stages involved in the learning process and is based on two factors – the level of consciousness and degree of competency. While consciousness refers to the degree of awareness that one has about the topic or area of interest, competency refers to the expertise or knowledge that one has about the topic or area.

The four stages of the model are the following:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence
  2. Conscious Incompetence
  3. Conscious Competence
  4. Unconscious Competence

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

“I don’t know what I don’t know.”

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”

Confucius (551–479 BC; philosopher).

In this stage, one isn’t aware of their lack of knowledge or incompetency about a skill due to their ignorance, as he/she doesn’t require the skill now or doesn’t really understand its value. For example, if a person doesn’t travel much or is afraid of bike travel, then he/she would choose to ignore about their incompetency towards bike riding. This over a time makes the person unconscious about their incompetence for the skill, thereby getting them stuck in this stage forever. This intuitive ignorance could prove dangerous for the person’s learning, as rightly pointed out by Charles Darwin – “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”.

Another reason for a person to get stuck in this stage could be due to over-confidence wherein one feels that he/she is good with the skill already but in reality, it’s not the case though.  This phenomenon is known as Dunning–Kruger effect in psychology wherein people of lesser ability mistakenly assume their cognitive ability to be greater than what it is due to their illusory superiority.

A strong awareness of oneself, constant analysis of one’s strengths & weakness and being open-minded could help one realize the lack of a particular skill and move to the second stage of learning – the conscious incompetency stage. A good teacher or an expert also could help the person realize his mistake and move on with the next stage of learning.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

“I know what I don’t know.”

The second stage starts with the realization that the person lacks the skill of interest and prepares to learn the skill. This stage also could be an uncomfortable one as he/she has to accept their shortcoming which could be difficult to comprehend at first but the acknowledgement serves as the motivation to move ahead and train for the skill. The person starts to chart out the objective along with the end stage of the learning process and looks for tools and the resources required to get there.

With regards setting goals and achievement of the goals (in line with learning a new skill), find below a simple technique that I read from a book – The monk who sold his Ferrari

  1. Form a clear mental picture (Plan) – Dream about the goal, visualize or imagine yourself, how you feel after attaining the goal/success (gives you confidence).
  2. Create positive pressure – Think about a few things (let it be positive) that you would like to do if you don’t follow the plan. Example: If I don’t control my anger today, I won’t have non-vegetarian food for the entire week (trust me, food serves as a great motivating factor).
  3. Set a deadline and milestones – Breaking the goal into small milestones could make one enjoy the process of learning and measure the progress.
  4. Put it to paper – write it in a diary or notepad. Take and read your goals regularly as it would help you remember the goal.
  5. Do it regularly – Doing a task regularly makes it habitual and I read somewhere that a minimum of 10000 hours approx. of practice is required to gain mastery over a skill.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

“I know and can do it now.”

The preparation one does during the earlier stage helps them to face this challenging stage in a confident and efficient manner. This stage could be the most important one as it would need greater participation and commitment from the person as well as from the people who is going to support this person in achieving the goal. With a structured process in place, one could slowly improve their skill or competency through regular training, practice and feedback with the use of right tools. For example, learning to ride a bike would require basic knowledge about the details of a bike, a thorough understanding of the traffic rules and the technical know how to ride a bike. You could either do it on your own by watching videos on YouTube or taking the effort of an expert bike rider or a friend.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

“I am so good at this now.”

When learning the skill, one does everything step by step in a conscious manner according to what is there in the YouTube video or what is taught by the expert. Regular practice boosts the confidence of the person as he/she breaks the shackles of being reliant on the instructions of the YouTube video or the expert and becomes a professional at using the skill. Again taking the bike riding as an example, when you learn to ride a bike, you consciously try to remember the steps on how to use the break, clutch and accelerator and what speed to travel when using a particular gear but with regular practice, you just start changing gears unconsciously by intuition without any thought as it is already etched in your sub conscious memory.

Stage 5: Consciousness of Unconscious Competence or Shared Competence

“I am so good at this now and share it with others.”

As human beings, we are prone to making mistakes and so it is very important to keep shuttling between the conscious-and unconscious-competency stages so that we are aware of what we are doing and reduce the chances of committing any serious mistakes. This stage had been added in the recent times to the model and considered be a crucial stage, wherein one has complete control over the skill and starts to help others achieve unconscious competence in the skill. There is an important lesson for the managers here when using the technique, which is not to keep your employees for long in the unconscious competency stage as they may get complacent, less competent, lose confidence and start making major mistakes. This could also lead to a psychological phenomenon known as impostor syndrome, wherein the person questions his/ her competency in using the skill and believes their past accomplishments with the skill to be a fraud. There is also another contrasting scenario possible wherein the employee gets over-confident that they start seeing themselves as a big fish and their colleagues to be of small fishes which is known as big fish in a small pond syndrome in the psychology field. Giving the role of training new recruits or a mentor could help one to be conscious about their skill competency and steer away clear of such psychological disorders.

Coming back to the question whether big boss contestants use this platform in the right way, I feel that most of them come into the show looking for fame and limelight that they forget the core objective of the show – to learn and transform themselves that would give them greater everlasting fame in the future. Some of the classic examples in the current show are Mumtaz in constant denial about her mistakes (unconscious incompetence), Aishwarya not being able to control her anger (keeps shuttling between unconscious- and conscious- incompetence stages),  Vaishnavi on gossiping (conscious incompetence but very little efforts towards moving on to the next stage). There has been positive progress with some of the candidates like Balaji, Yashika, Riythvika but it needs to be seen how they really take this forward into their real lives without the cameras or instructions from the Big Boss.

Learning a new skill is always difficult but with right tools like the conscious competency model, one can make this journey an enjoyable and fun-filled one.

Happy learning…

Tips from the Lunch Box movie for a Healthy relationship

Lunch Box Movie                                             Last weekend, I was trying to find some movie DVDs to watch at my home and one of my friends suggested me the Hindi movie – “Lunchbox”. I generally pick my movies after carefully reading the reviews on the internet and while checking on this, I was surprised with the overwhelmingly positive reviews and also learned that it represented India in many International film events such as The Oscars, BAFTA, Cannes and Toronto Festival. Without any hesitation, I bought the DVD and what to say, it became one of the best movies I had watched in a long time.

                         “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

                                            The movie starts off with this note and if you are already thinking (just like me) that this is another story of a married woman trying to woo her husband through her culinary skills, you are in for a surprise as you start realizing the slight twist to the storyline once it starts unfolding. The movie is about an unhappy housewife, Ila, trying to get her husband’s love by cooking tasty food. She cooks with the utmost care but it gets delivered to a wrong person, Saajan (played brilliantly by Irfaan Khan) by the Mumbai Dabbawallahs. This chance encounter results in both Ila and Saajan sharing their hopes, dreams, experiences about life and their daily activities through letters in the lunch box. The rest of the movie flows like a poem and poignantly portrays as to how this delivery mistake changes the life of Ila and Saajan forever. The movie leaves you with long lasting impressions about personal life and also offers plenty of takeaways on a professional level as well, especially for managers who would like to establish a better relationship with their employees. I have mentioned a few of them below:

Talk, Talk, Talk
The biggest learning from the movie has to be the importance of communication, be it between husband-wife or managers-employees as a failure here could have far-reaching consequences ultimately leading to break in the relationship. Right from the start, Ila’s husband (Rajiv) refrains from talking to Ila and even though Ila tries to be positive about this, at one point in time, she couldn’t just take this forward. So, she decides to leave her husband once for all. Rajiv could have averted this if in case he had found time to communicate with Ila. This is the same with managers who are always so busy that they don’t even find time to be with their employees and forget one of their core objectives – managing their employees. This is one of the major reasons why employees don’t trust their managers and ultimately decide to leave them. So managers need to ensure that they take some time to communicate with their employees on a regular basis.

Care about your Feedbacks
As like communication, the managers also have to be frequent in giving genuine feedbacks to employees about their performance. While Ila asks about the food to Rajiv, he just gives a one-word answer – Good, which doesn’t really motivate Ila even though he didn’t say anything negative. If he had explained a little about the food like “the chapatti was soft to eat and the spices in the sabzi had blended well and complemented the chapatti really well”, it would have inspired Ila to cook with interest even though it’s her daily boring routine. So, managers should understand that there are employees like Ila who do their daily work with passion and would require some motivation to carry on their good work in the future. So next time when your employee asks for feedback, stop giving one-word answers and be descriptive so that employees get a real picture of the work they do.

Get into details

Another problem with today’s managers is they give generic comments during project-related discussion with the employees that nobody understands what he/she means, resulting in loss of time and effort for both. While Ila asks about the lunch, Rajiv just talks about the food but if he had gone into details of the food like the roti and sabzi, the problem of wrong lunch box being delivered would have been found and stopped at the first instant itself.

Choose a medium to connect with your employees
In the movie, food acts as the connecting link between Ila and Saajan and its aroma and taste is used by Ila to express her feelings to Saajan – be it her anger through the spicy vegetables or the aubergine fry to express her love. Also, they use letters which are short and crisp for communicating with each other. Similarly, managers need to choose their own medium to communicate with their employees. Some of the examples could be using personalized gifts, letters of appreciation or sending colorful emails to communicate with the employees.

Take Genuine Interest with your employees
Both Ila and Saajan don’t know each other (not even their age) but still they enjoy each other’s company, be it Ila cooking good food for Saajan or Sajaan writing letters to thank for her food and in return giving Ila worldly advice to deal with her fears and problems in life. Even though as managers we are supposed to be professional, but connecting at times on a personal level would do a world of good for the relationship. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey explains about a simple yet powerful concept known as “Relationship Bank Account”- that involves random but regular acts of kindness towards a person leading to a healthier relationship. So, small gestures like wishing a good day, saying hello/ thanks/ sorry, checking when someone is not well, keeping your promises become your deposits in the relationship bank account with your employees that increase the emotional bonding leading to greater productivity.

Relationship Bank Account

Don’t cheat and be Open
Rajiv doesn’t have any love for Ila and has an illegal relationship with another girl. He thinks that Ila wouldn’t find this as she mostly stays at home. She somehow gets to know this through the lipstick stains on Rajiv’s shirt. Some managers are like Rajiv who feel bad about working with an employee but don’t have the guts to address it with them. Instead of talking at the back of your employees’ about his/ her performance, have an open chat with them and be frank about your expectations and reality. If it still doesn’t work, it’s better for both the parties to part ways happily rather raging a cold war within the office premises.

Next time, when you open your lunch box, remember these lessons and don’t forget to thank your wife/ mom who prepares the lunch with not just the vegetables/spices but with lots of love as well. So, what you’re waiting for, grab a lunch box, am sorry, a tub of popcorn and enjoy this movie.

Live and Let Live…


Me and Venbha

Me with My daughter @ Marina Beach

I recently happened to visit the Marina beach with my one and half years old daughter and was in a dilemma as to whether to make her stand in the beach water. I was so protective that I almost stood frozen mentally near the beach for 10 minutes battling in my mind to make this decision. Finally, I decided to let go of my fear and made her stand in the beach water. Initially, she was afraid to go near the water but gradually started to enjoy and finally, when we decided to leave after nearly playing for 2 hours, she started crying and didn’t want to leave the beach. I understood that she enjoyed playing on the beach and felt good about myself for making the right choice.

A crucial aspect that helped me in making this decision is the popular animation movie – Finding Nemo. Anyone who has watched the movie could easily relate to what I said but for the others, here’s a short version of the movie to clear things. The movie is based on the relationship between a meek fish named Marlin and his son – Nemo. Marlin is very protective about Nemo due to a smaller fin that limits his swimming ability and thereby restrains him from going into the deep sea. Often humiliated by friends, he decides to show his mettle by venturing into the deep sea alone but, in turn, gets abducted by a group of travelers and taken to Sydney. Marlin sets on an adventure through the deepest parts of the ocean (beautifully filmed, especially loved the scenes involving the Eastern Australian current – kind of an underwater superhighway used by fish and sea turtles to travel down the east coast of Australia) to find his lost son. During this quest, Marlin discovers himself and starts to nurture a healthy relationship with his son after successfully rescuing him amidst great ordeal.

This experience changed my attitude towards my daughter as like Nemo’s father in the movie. Earlier, I was afraid of letting my daughter play on the rooftop or walk on the streets (she liked it very much) and mostly carried her on my shoulders, but now I let her go play on the street/ rooftop and ensure that I keep a watch on her.Live and let live_Mahatma

Similarly, a close friend of mine had to make a risky choice in his professional career. He requested advice from his manager about the decision and instead of guiding him; the manager (like Nemo’s father) instilled fear in his mind and told him not to take risks. On the contrary, my friend made the hard choice and despite initial struggles, was able to grow in his career after the change. This is a common scenario in the corporate world, wherein the so-called experienced old-fashioned managers misguide their employees and stop them from taking the necessary risks. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen covey, one of the best-selling business books, elucidates the need for each of us to move out of our comfort zone often and take up tasks that would fall in our courage zone.

3rd Habit_Stephen Covey

The 3rd Habit from the book – “The 7 Habits of Highly effective People

Also, just like the deep unexplored abyss in the film, every organization has its own secret information vault that is mostly unavailable to the employees but rests only with the top management. This information gap is called as informational asymmetry by the economists. It’s not that all business related information had to be shared with the employees but the corporate world would be a far better place if the right information is shared to the right people (employees), at the right time, for the right purpose and also in the right way. This would help the employees to get a big picture of the organization’s current performance and future plans that could result in them being more contributive towards the organization’s goals. Frontline and mid-level managers shouldn’t just instill fear in their employee’s mind by hiding key organizational information as like Nemo’s father but should  guide their Nemos’ through the unexplored abyss of the corporate world using the very same hidden information and their rich experience.

If you’re playing the role of Nemo’s father right now either in your personal or professional life, then it’s time to let go of your fear and undergo a metamorphosis as shown in the movie.  Do watch the “Finding Nemo” movie for more courage and inspiration. I bet you wouldn’t regret making this change.

Back To The Future


Blog Picture Final

I was watching the animation movie, Wall-E few days back and it seriously made me think about the life mankind would have in the future in case the current abuse of nature and earth goes on. For people who think that such a situation for earth and mankind is remote, think again. The recent floods in Chennai and Tamil Nadu should be a wake-up call for each of us to tread a new path and shun our existing ways of destroying nature.

The title that came to my mind when I thought about this topic is the time-old classic movie – Back to the Future that fascinated us with the concept of time travel. I realized that time travel is the need of the hour in case we need to save the earth from further destruction but a different version of traveling back in time, called Precycling. With the public voice getting louder in support of the 3 R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle for saving nature, the one that could be more effective compared to 3 R’s is Precycle.

So what is Precycling? According to Wikipedia, “Precycling is the practice of reducing waste by attempting to avoid bringing items which will generate waste into home or business”. To better understand the concept of Precycling, I would like to take you back (20 years before) in time. I still remember taking a wired basket containing empty bottle, empty egg tray while going to a grocery shop and the shop keeper would fill in the empty bottle with oil, egg tray with eggs and pack pulses/cereals/masala items in a paper. I would also carry a separate bowl and gunny bag to get milk from my milk vendor and rice from ration shops. Except paper (which is bio-degradable), nothing else is wasted as I could reuse it again until they get damaged. Today, when I go to a supermarket, I get everything in a packed form that I end up bringing a lot of waste in the form of plastic bags, bottles, covers, and pouches. Even though I sell it to a recycler and the materials are recycled, still a portion of non-recyclables end in the dust bins, finally making its way to the landfills. So precycling eliminates the need for a particular product (like plastic covers/ bottles in the above example) so that you don’t need the 3 R’s – reduced usage/ reuse/ recycle of the product.

After some serious thinking, I decided to bring back this old habit to mine to life. During my recent visit to the supermarket, I found that there were options to buy pulses/cereals/rice in unpackaged form (colloquially known as loose) and so carried my own bags to buy these separately. I know this is not possible with all the products that you buy from the shops, but a simple change with the easier products could help us to find a solution for the difficult ones in the future.

As I was thinking about Precycling, I came across a website which promotes a similar concept known as Refilling. Again traveling back in time, the word refill brought back memories of drinking Goli soda in refillable glass bottles. I know that we still get soft drinks and soda in refill bottles, but their usage is coming down, thanks to the popularity of PET bottles. Even though the concept of refilling raises questions about hygiene and cleanliness, a lot of startups and big corporations in India have taken a liking to solve this problem. While traveling to my office, I noticed coke refill machines installed in front of various places such as supermarkets and petrol bunks, but the sad part is that not many seem to use it. I got to know about a company called Amruth Dhara, based in Pondicherry, which is working on installing water refill machines in public places to tackle the problem of bottled water pollution. It is important that the public support such initiatives so that this concept soon catches on.

Another product that I found interesting and innovative is the Mitti cool fridge which is made of clay and used to store fruits, vegetables, and water. Do you remember that before electric fridges became popular, people used to store water and edible items in earthen pots to keep them fresh and chill? Well, the Mitti cool fridge works on the same principle and has found many takers for it. I still see people in villages and few in cities use earthen pots for storage and cooking purposes, but their growth seems to be on a downward trend. I haven’t seen/ used the Mitti cool fridge yet but would like to try it in the near future.

I know a change like this (going back to our old ways of living) might not be easy but the best thing is to experience it firsthand and later share your experience with your friends and family so that such concepts like Precycle, Refill catches up with people and gets imbibed into their everyday life. In case you are wondering whether a change like this could help in combating climate change, think again, because I have read somewhere that “small things make a BIG difference”. Pray to god this happens.

The Nobel Prize Decoded


“Nobel medal” by Design of the medal: The Nobel Foundation. Sculptor and engraver: Erik Lindberg (1902). – Source of this work. Photographer: David Monniaux (2005, 2006, 2007)Edited by: hidro 21:17, 28 July 2008 (UTC)Design of the medal: The Nobel Foundation. Sculptor and engraver: Erik Lindberg (1902). Licensed under PD-US via Wikipedia –

I am a big fan of the Pawn Stars show aired on History TV channel and happened to witness an interesting (or rather shocking) question that was asked during one of their shows – Pawnography. The question under scanner is – Who amongst these famous personalities were NOT nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize:

  1. Oskar Schindler
  2. Benito Mussolini
  3. Adolf Hitler
  4. Yassar Arafat

In case you are a history buff who knows about these 4 personalities, then chances are that you will end up making a wrong guess to the above question. Barring Oskar Schindler (well-known industrialist during World War II who is credited with saving 1200 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust and became popular via the oscar winning movie – Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg), the other personalities’ history don’t stand in good taste to be considered for a Nobel prize. While Hitler and Mussolini are well known for causing huge damage to human life during World War II, Arafat is considered a hero by the Palestinians but a terrorist by the Israelis. Ironically, the answer to the question is Oskar Schindler (I could understand your disbelief). But hold on, the surprise doesn’t end with this.

The biggest surprise is that the most likely deserving person for the Nobel Prize – Mahatma Gandhi never received the prize. Even though he was nominated five times for the award, he failed to bag the award even once. This strong advocator of Non-violence came close to winning the award in 1948 but was assassinated just two days before the nomination due date. Since the prize could be awarded only to a living person, the Mahatma’s nomination couldn’t be accepted. The Nobel committee even decided to go against the rules and confer the award to Gandhi but later decided to withhold the award and instead declared that there was no deserving living candidate for the award during that year. Joining the Mahatma on this list of Non-Nobel Laureates are some of the well-known personalities on the planet such as Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Neville Chamberlain, Clement Attlee, Ramsay MacDonald, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Charles Hughes, Jawaharlal Nehru, Henrik Ibsen and Thomas Edison.

The story behind the nomination of the least likely candidate for the award – Hitler is an interesting one indeed. A member of the Swedish parliament, E.G.C. Brandt nominated Adolf Hitler in 1939 with satirical intentions (to mock Hitler’s discrimination towards Jews) but had to withdraw the nomination after protests from other parliament members in Sweden.

As I began scouring over the internet to find more information on the most valuable award on Earth, I stumbled upon these interesting historical facts:

  • An interesting statute about the award is that a candidate who dies after the nomination closing date still gets to receive the award. This has happened only thrice in Nobel Prize’s history, the latest being Ralph Steinman, who was awarded the prize three days before his death in 2012.
  • The wife of Robert Lucas, winner of 1995 Nobel Prize in Economics, had the forecasting brain of Nostradamus that she had introduced a clause in their divorce settlement 7 years ago by which she was entitled to receive 50 percent of her husband’s Nobel Prize. So the economist had to share his $1 million prize with his wife as per the settlement. Interestingly, the divorce clause expired on October 31, 1995 and so if he had won the award a year later, his wife would have received nothing. Well, someone rightly said – “wherever women are concerned, the unexpected always happens”. Seems to be right in this case.
  • One of the terms of the award is that it cannot be given to more than 3 persons for a single field, irrespective of what the situation may be. The Nobel Prize has been given to 2 or 3 persons in a single field several times, whenever the selection committee found that the nominated works were equally meritorious.
  • All the Nobel prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, except the Peace prize which is awarded on the same date and time in Norway. Until now, it remains a mystery as to why Alfred Nobel chose Norway to award the Peace prize.
  • There were few instances wherein inventions that were awarded the Nobel Prize were later found to be wrong/ untrue. Johannes Fibiger in 1926 was awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for his hypothesis about parasites causing cancer which was found later to be incorrect. A year later, Julius Wagner Von Jauregg won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on the discovery of a cure for Syphilis by injecting fever causing malaria. Antonio Moniz was awarded the Nobel prize in 1949 for Medicine for developing prefrontal lobotomy as a treatment for schizophrenia which was discontinued in the 1960s.
  • Every year, Thomson Reuters, the largest information service provider company, publishes a list of candidates who are likely to win the Nobel Prize in their respective field based on the citation impact of their published research. Until now, the company has correctly predicted 37 Nobel prize winners since 2002.
  • The well-known Yoga guru, Baba Ramdev recently claimed that he should have been awarded the Nobel prize for his work on Yoga but was denied because he is black. As expected, the controversial yogi received lot of flak for his controversial comments.

Being a big fan of the Freakonomics book, I found this interesting podcast on “How to win a Nobel Prize: A New Freakonomics Radio Episode” in their blog. Do listen to this in case you would like to lay your hands on this coveted prize.

Even though this prestigious award’s history has been marred in controversy over the selection process and the past winners, we should accept the fact that the award has contributed enormously in improving the standard of research and development on the planet. As like the inscription found on the medal – Inventas Vitam juvat excoluisse per artes (translates as “And they who bettered life on earth by new found mastery”) and Pro pace et fraternitate gentium (translates as “for the peace and brotherhood of men“), this award has acknowledged some of the greatest inventions/ inventors which/who have made our life easy on Earth.

Real life lessons from Reel world – The Best Movies on Management (Part III)

Continued From the Previous Post: Real life lessons from Reel world – The Best Movies on Management (Part II)

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)the-pursuit-of-happyness

Generally movies show the protagonist getting rich in a short span of time through smart work but very few films showcase the suffering that someone goes through to become rich. This film portrays the real life struggle of Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) to become a stock broker, while managing fatherhood and homelessness. Anyone who is facing an adverse situation in their life could take a lot of inspiration from this movie and attain success, if they are determined to push forward relentlessly, no matter what obstacles get in their way. I remember reading the importance of failures (as like this movie) in a book called “Before you quit your job”. The book encourages entrepreneurs to make failures and also reinforces the point – “the greater the fall/failure is, the higher one will rise/succeed”.

One of my favourite scene (emotional and moving) is the climax scene in which the directors announce that Will Smith has passed his internship and been given a real paid job.

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain-Phillips-Movie-2013                                      It is based on a true story about Captain Richard Phillips (played by tom Hanks) and the hijacking of US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship by Somali pirates in 2009. It teaches the importance of team unity, effective planning, preparing for the worst times and the role of a leader during the rough times. Tom hanks beautifully (as always) brings out the qualities of a successful leader: Cool & calm, Calculative, Communicative, Diplomatic and Strategic, particularly in times of greater crisis. In one scene, when Hanks is faced with the predicament of his crew members being attacked by pirates, he sacrifices himself in order to save them. There are a lot of scenes involving Hanks and the Pirates which neatly portrays the importance of negotiation skills. Even if you aren’t in the mood to learn the lessons that the film has to offer, still watch it for Tom Hanks performance and the brilliant acting by some first time actors (who play as pirates).

Chak De! India (2007)chak-de-india-poster                                    It is based on the very old classical movie theme – the underdogs, defying all odds to become the ultimate winners. A once successful hockey player (played by Shah Rukh Khan) of the Indian team is blamed and shamed by the people for his only mistake in a World cup final. He returns to the game as a coach after a span of 7 years to redeem his past. He transforms the struggling and not so well-known Indian women’s hockey team into a world cup winning side. Even though the team consists of some of the best players in the country, their performance have been more than disappointing. Then enters the coach, who unites these players and makes them play as a team, forgetting their regional differences. The movie sketches out a leadership model involving talent spotting, delegation, team & trust building, preparing the team both physically and emotionally with the right dosage of humour, encouragement and force. The climax scene wherein the coach gives a brief inspirational speech to the team ahead of the big final game is a classic.

A few other movies which treads on a similar line are Remember the Titans (2000) and Lagaan (2001).

Ratatouille (2007)

RatatouillePoster                       This might be a surprise addition to this list but it offers one of the powerful lessons in business – “It’s not about who you are, it’s about what you want to achieve and how you go about doing it”. The movie’s story line is an interesting one – A rat has the passion to become a chef (not the likeliest of choice for rats which are the most unwelcome guests in a human kitchen) and sets on to achieve its dream after finding that it has been living in Paris – the food capital of the world. In spite of several hurdles, the rat does finally become a chef and how it does it, forms the rest of the story. Managers who constantly feel bad about having misfits on their team could take a leaf out of the movie to find & develop their hidden talents and coach them to achieve greatness. They could also use the movie as a tool to show to such team members about the untapped potential waiting to be unleashed within each of them.

To end, this quote of Tim Burton rightly summarizes the importance of movies in our life as like the valuable management lessons it had taught me – “Certain things leave you in your life and certain things stay with you. And that’s why we’re all interested in movies those ones that make you feel, you still think about. Because it gave you such an emotional response, it’s actually part of your emotional make-up, in a way.”