One Step Greener With Young Activist Nav Agrawal
In a world of surplus production, it is easy to avert one’s eye from the mountain of waste produced by both the private and public sectors. As climate change gathers momentum, the younger generation is no longer writing essays about a utopian future but working hard to drive action against climate-related catastrophes.
Among many young torchbearers, Nav and Vihaan Agrawal are award-winning brothers who founded a waste-management NGO called One Step Greener in Delhi NCR. They launched One Step Greener at the ages of 11 and 14, respectively. Currently, they are working at the ground level to make a difference in pollution levels in Delhi. In an exclusive conversation with Outlook Traveller, Nav discusses waste segregation practices, plantation drives and the growing concern between tourism and waste production.
What was the origin story of One Step Greener?
In 2017, the collapse of the Ghazipur landfill led to two causalities and a massive release of toxic gas and acids. My asthmatic brother suffered multiple asthma attacks after this incident.
We are usually taught that air pollution comes from cars or fossil fuels in school. However, after this incident, we did our research and realized that about 30 to 40 per cent of pollution comes from landfills. After this research, we decided to segregate our household waste for recycling. In the next step, we realised that recycling companies do not accept waste in such a small quantity—they need about 300-400 kg of waste in bulk to initiate recycling. Accordingly, we took another step and volunteered to collect segregated waste in our neighbourhood. Eventually, this small drive became part of a bigger initiative that we named One Step Greener.
How does One Step Greener benefit society? What practices do you employ for the same?
Our first step was education since waste is systematically neglected in India. Under this step, we’ve educated over 30,000 people about the problem of waste. Once we finish educating people, we encourage them to sign up with One Step. After the individual comes on board, we offer them free-of-cost resources to sort waste effectively, as well as an employee ID card. As a result, we have transformed this practice into a formal sector. After receiving the waste from the employees, we take it to our warehouse, where we once again micro-segregate the waste. By practising micro-segregation, we ensure that each specific waste category goes to a specialised recycler.
Can you elaborate more on your practice of educating people about waste?
We start with a simple presentation with house owners and society heads. The presentation is about how to initiate impact in terms of waste management. For us, the “education” doesn’t really stop. In fact, we also have an app that helps you monitor your impact—the app enables you to track how much water you’ve saved and how many trees you’ve planted.
What is your take on waste management from a tourism lens?
This is an important question for waste management. Recently, we went to Jim Corbett with an NGO called Waste Warriors, and we found a lot of tourist waste. Now, the problem is that Jim Corbett is a biodiverse place with a lot of ecological importance. With waste being dumped in an unabashed manner, it has led to a chain reaction.
Waste is more than just a stand-alone problem. It enters the water table, into the soil and then the mycelium network of the trees, leading to a drastic change. In fact, many research papers suggest that entire forests have been decimated because of a small landfill in the area. So, we think this is an important issue that we need to tackle head-on.
What are some of the areas in and outside Delhi that you’re targeting? Can you share the details about the impact that you’ve made?
Currently, we’re operating in 62 localities and the whole of NCR, so we can arrange pick-up in any of these areas.
In terms of impact, we have recycled 4.5 lakh kg of waste. We’ve adopted and trained more than 300,000 people. We’ve planted and saved over 16,000 trees. We’ve saved around 3.83 million litres of water. We’ve provided 1801 cubic meters of landfill space.
We are also initiating a tree plantation drive with 20,000 native trees in a Miyawaki style. While a big percentage of pollution comes from landfills, the other portion can only be resolved through plantation drives. We hope that a forest in the middle of cities can increase biodiversity and reduce carbon across the city.