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Home sweet home, Delhi style

27 Feb

I was lucky to find a fantastic apartment – and housemate – for my three month stay in Delhi. I had my own attached bathroom, shared living area and a large spacious bedroom that essentially doubled as my office.

Liz's office South Delhi

My home 'office' in South Delhi

Note to all former SV colleagues: yes this is the metal name plaque from my old work desk. I figured no-one else was going to use if after I left…I’m not that replaceable!

my bedroom cum office

desk and mind mapping

Creative mind mapping of the Conserve Delhi 2010 project blog - old packing string, 3M post-it notes and a banyan leaf.

I can’t emphasise the importance of having your own comfortable space in a hectic city like Delhi. I used the accommodation pages of Craig’s List and double checked listings on Trip Advisor to find my apartment.


Another day, another dhalao

26 Feb

When I arrived in Delhi monsoon was still in full swing. The days were hot and muggy and you could only sleep with a fan or air conditioner.

A few days after I’d moved into my apartment, I decided to treat myself at the local ice cream parlour. The icecream was great but, at 80 rupees a scoop, definitely pricey.

On my stroll home I passed my neighbourhood dhalao, or waste collection centre.

Neighbourhood dhalao south delhi

Kailash Colony, South Delhi neighbourhood dhalao

It was getting dark, so I was startled by something scrabbling through the rotting food scraps, crumpled packaging and broken bits of crockery.

It was a man.Ragpicker sorting waste

He stopped his sorting and turned towards me. We looked at each other for a moment.

It would be weeks before I understood the vital role he played in recycling my daily domestic waste.

I didn’t yet know that my ice cream cost around the same amount of money he would earn on an average day.

It would also be some time before I would learn about the Delhi government’s plans to remove the dhalaos (and his workspace) from the city.

And I certainly would never have predicted that one day, a couple of months from that moment, I would smash a glass bottle in my kitchen, then fret about how to dispose of the shards.

Because I would know then that Delhi’s recycling is often done by people with bare hands and no protective clothing.

But I wasn’t concerned with any of this then.

I just glanced away from him and continued walking.

He turned back to his work.

And I ate expensive ice cream.

Ragpicker collecting recyclables

KeepCup goes to India

13 Feb

Ok, this is a little tangental, but it relates to life in my local Delhi neighbourhood. Right at the beginning of this journey, I published a spider diagram on some of the core personal things I wanted to work on throughout the project. One of them was getting off caffeine for a while………well. Um.

That didn’t quite happen.

But I did manage to substitute a coffee habit for a serious chai addiction. All that sweet, milky, tannin goodness on every street corner was just too good to pass up.

What wasn’t so great were the huge numbers of plastic chai cups piled up, and often burnt, in my very same ‘hood…

chai trash

…fortunately, I discovered my well-used KeepCup along with a number of other surprise items in my luggage (let’s just say red wine and running late make for pretty random packing).



KeepCup in bike holder. Image courtesy of blog

I decided, in order to keep up my chai habit, I’d need to let go of the throwaway plastic.

chai boy uses keep cup

The art of tea: 'tis a serious business

So, with a lot of gesturing and a few quizzical looks from the locals, it was warm cups of tea almost every morning for the autorickshaw ride to work.

KeepCup full of chai

The KeepCup without lid and full of yum chai

P.S. A friend of mine once griped about how annoying it was only having disposable plastic cups when he wanted to have a drink at football matches in Melbourne.

We reckon it’s a blindingly good opportunity for KeepCup. Think about it: a reusable cup you can get custom made in your own team colours. What’s not to like?

P.S. I am in no way connected to KeepCup, I just like the product. And by the looks of their rapid global expansion others do to. First the world, then the MCG?


Notes on the ‘hood

7 Feb

Hello again, dear readers. I spent the morning working out how many posts I need to do before finishing up this project blog (Sunday 6 March is my deadline). While it’s not directly related to the project outcomes, today’s post is for anyone interested in living and volunteering/working in Delhi. Here’s a couple of useful sites if you need to find your own accommodation, or just want to do a bit of research about Delhi and India before heading over:

Using resources such as these, I was fortunate to find a great flat (and flatmate) in a lovely part of South Delhi – Kailash Colony.

Why was it good?

It was incredibly close to a brand new Metro stop (Kailash Colony). As a female on the road a lot for work, Delhi’s metro system was a real blessing – clean, comfortable and secure…
Riding the delhi metro

Delhi metro ladies only

Plenty of seats for all 'the ladies' on the Delhi Metro

…My local ‘hood had a great, laid-back market place, with shops arranged in a horseshoe around a small green park…

Kailash Colony market at Diwali

Kailash Colony market glammed up for Diwali Festival

Kailash Colony market park

Little kids (and big ones) hanging out in the Kailash Colony market park

… a welcoming temple built around an old Banyan tree…

Kailash Colony market temple

Kailash Colony market temple around banyan tree

…and a peaceful yoga sanctuary just around the corner.

…You could find a lot of familiar goods at the well stocked shops…

Star Bazaar Kailash Colony market

Everything a girl could want...and in the right order too

…and plenty of restaurants to explore Indian cuisine…

channa masala at Annuparma's

Fructose friendly (no onion) channa masala meal at Anupama's restaurant, Kailash Colony Market

…And then there was this store, which took me a little while to get my head around…

Republic of Chicken

No way. It's a chicken revolution!


Republic of Chicken Staff

...No way it's a chicken revolution.

Zen quote

Image courtesy of David Schiller's Zen Page-A-Day 2010 Calendar

Social Impact

26 Jan

Oh my, it’s been a really busy few weeks! Remember the British company we worked with in Delhi? Out of the blue they contacted me to see if I’d work on the sustainability part of a tender submission they’re putting together. I said,”Really? You’d pay me for doing something I enjoy? Yes please!” So I’ll be taking the next week to focus on this, but I’ll be be back soon to finish our project story.

Before signing off, I wanted to share with you a little piece of interesting reporting. It’s about trying to answer questions triggered by the journalist in my earlier post: why should the Games give you waste over giving it to poor people who lost their slum homes because of this event?

But did this really happen? Did people lose their homes because of the Games?

I never had much opportunity to physically go out and look for evidence of slum clearing by the city’s authorities during the Games. But a couple of enterprising Big Picture photographers did, and here’s what they documented:

Delhi slum clearing

Indian slum dweller Amit Kumar stands on the spot where his hut was demolished in New Delhi on September 27, 2010 as reported on's The Big Picture (MANPREET ROMANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Delhi slum kids

Children search for their belongings among the debris of demolished shanties in Gurgaon, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, September 30, 2010. The shanties were demolished by municipal workers near the Commonwealth Games shooting range on September 28, local media reported. (REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma)

Even more compelling evidence is revealed in Sumita Dasgupta’s startling piece on the unintended impact of clearing out the Gurgaon’s slum communities. I’ve sampled a small part of her article here, but I do recommend reading the full piece if you have 5 minutes to spare:

“…While the outer layer of the city had begun to shine, the colonies lying in the inner circles of Gurgaon suddenly looked shockingly shabby…The lanes inside the colonies were drowned in garbage, with plastic bottles, decaying vegetables, broken glass pieces strewn all over. This flood of filth had spilled over to Gurgaon’s arterial roads as well. The litter bins standing outside the gates had practically disappeared under the burden of waste.

So what went wrong? Well, when in the run up to the Games, the Gurgaon authorities decided to remove the slums, and drive out (albeit temporarily) the panic stricken people living there beyond the borders, they obviously had not realised how lethally this move was going to affect their Clean-Up operations. With the slum population gone, the lowest and the most critical link in the ranks of the city’s waste managers had gone missing too…” Games, Garbage and Gurgaon, Centre for Science and Environment, 13 Oct, 2010

So I guess there was a cost to the Delhi 2010 Games that may not readily show up on any final accounting reports – because, dear readers, it was human.

P.S. In case you haven’t clocked it yet, where an image, idea or words are from someone else I’m trying to make sure they’re fully attributed. It’s always a tricky one when you don’t have a lot of money to pay someone for their creative output (which is – as my creative professional friends say – the ultimate in attributing!)

But I was reminded there’s still a lot of value in ‘right proper’ sharing on the internet by Rosscott and Loldwell’s amusing comic strip on the topic. It’s ‘pretty cool’…so I’m sharing it… with credit…where it’s due.

Where do we go?…

21 Nov

… ‘Oh, where do we go now?…Sweet child o’ mine’. Guns ‘n’ Roses

Yep. That’s right: this song has been running relentlessly through my head while researching and writing this particular post. (Go on, treat yourself to a little late eighties glam-rock posturing. You know you want to).

What’s a global hit from the eighties got to do with upcycling?

It started a few weeks ago, during the Games, while talking to the South Asian correspondents for British and Australian news publications about what we were attempting to do.

I felt under-prepared for the interview – particularly when one of the journalists asked, “A lot of the city’s slums have been cleared out for this event. Why should the Games give you waste, like vinyl banners, when they could be used by poor people to re-build their homes?”

washing behind a wall wrap

Image courtesy AP Photo/Manish Swarup via The Big Picture,

Good. Question.

I fumbled a reply and the interview ended with neither journalist running a story (I know – it’s enough to make any half-savvy PR girl weep).

But it did get me to thinking: when it’s not going to landfill, where does all the waste in Delhi end up?

So, while humming the Gunner’s theme tune, I did a little research on the waste stream we are following from the Games – scrap banners.

We asked the company storing the banners where they thought the scrap was used. They told us they sell it for a small fee to the waste-dealing middlemen of Delhi – the kabadi wallas. Beyond this, they could only guess where the material went.

So I took my trusty little digi cam for a scout around the city to see what I could see:

It’s entirely possible the banners might get used as temporary shelters in one of Delhi’s jugghis (slums)…

Slum settlement on my route to work in East Delhi

Slum settlement on my route to work in East Delhi

…or covering loads on the back of trucks…

Truck canvas cover

Protecting the cargo with the canvas

…or as a colourful roof for a rickshaw…

Rickshaw canvas roof

Pimp my ride with upcycling style

…and, of course, as excellent shades against Delhi’s ferocious Summer heat…

Shade canvas

Look closely - these are actually Games banners converted to shade cloths!

So yeah, there’s a lot of informal repurposing, reusing and upcycling already going on in Delhi.

But with the city’s residents generating around 7,000 tonnes of waste a day, there’s also a lot of rubbish going straight to the dumps or simply being burnt on the streets…

Burning waste in Delhi

Burning waste, including plastics, on a street corner in Lajpat Nagar, Delhi

And it’s not just a problem for Delhi: although the Australian state of Victoria achieves pretty high recycling rates, the amount of waste generated by the 5.5 million population continues to increase each year.

Upcycling is one of many ways to tackle this problem by rethinking our headspace on waste – it’s about seeing value (and beauty) in things we might otherwise discard.

Getting back to that song, what would happen if we thought of our products as our own children?

We’d want to cherish them, protect them and never give them away. And, most of all, we’d do everything we could to stop them ending up here…

products and child

…wouldn’t we?

‘Now and then, when I see [his] face, [he] takes me away to that special place. And if I stared too long, I’d probably break down and cry’…

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