Karachi, popularised as the city of lights, well-reputed as the city by the sea, and plagued by an ever-growing municipal waste issue as garbage dumps at every street corner, landfills in every empty plot, set ablaze, light up our dark nights and no doubts remain regarding the reason why the waters at Keamari are a murky grey. In those same dumpster fires perhaps, lie the ashes of the 2014 Sindh Environmental Protection Act, to be scooped up in a Styrofoam urn and dumped in the Arabian Sea.
With no prevention and no cure to this issue and having watched a video by Vox on Facebook, Minah Ali and Zara Rehman, two A Level students of the class of 2018 at The Lyceum, were inspired to conduct a survey on the amount of waste their institution generated, making the astonishing discovery that it amassed to around 70 kilogrammes of waste a day (2,100 kilogrammes a month, up to 30,000 kilogrammes a year – that is almost the weight of 6 elephants). All of it was dumped behind Gizri Bridge by a young boy who collected it every day.
The Lyceum being part of the Round Square group of schools and environmentalism being a Round Square ideal, the two teenagers founded the ‘Zero Waste Initiative’ in February 2018 to combat this massive contribution to land and water pollution (consider the widespread burning of municipal waste and you can throw air pollution into the mix).
Functioning similar to a think-tank of sorts but with the added bonus of actually implementing structural changes, Zero Waste focuses on tackling different categories of waste in creative ways. The first few months culminated in the revamping of the school canteen where it successfully substituted all food items that came in non-biodegradable packaging with healthier alternatives in reusable cutlery. Saving the environment, as well as gaining the nutrition one requires to face the daunting task that is A-Levels – two birds with one stone!
With plastic water bottles removed from the canteen and water dispensers installed around the campus, students were encouraged to participate in the ‘Bring your Own Bottle’ campaign – a name that speaks for itself.
As the society expanded its reach under Laiba Siddiqi and Wajih Kureishy (Class of 2019), the Lyceum faculty is now encouraged to use paper already printed on one side for handouts – if not in softcopy form on email or Google Classroom. Simple actions like printing on both sides of the paper could go a long way, as every piece of trash counts. You matter.
The graduating students of Lyceum are also urged to donate their academic resources such as textbooks, past-papers and notes to the incoming batches via the ‘Zero Waste Book Drive’. After phenomenal success last year, A-Level students all over Karachi are being asked this year to drop off such academic resources at The Lyceum to be re-used. The benefit is two-fold: not only does this save tonnes of paper from ending up in landfills, but also eradicates the need to print new syllabus materials on fresh paper. Resisting the urge to throw what gave you nightmares for the last year and helping a junior out is just one way you could participate.
Additionally, students are now exploring sustainable soap making as a replacement for commercially produced and packaged soap. Workshops have been conducted on making organic soaps with the use of lye and oils and research on more cost-effective methods is underway. The Old Clifton Park opposite the school has been adopted in the hopes of composting any organic waste produced. Colour-coded dustbins at the Lyceum aid in sorting the waste – blue for paper, green for organic, yellow for plastic and red for trash.
Ideas are innumerable. Enthusiasm is unparalleled. Execution is underway.
In a socially aware age where everyone has at least once stumbled upon an Instagram post of a melting ice-cap endangering adorable polar bears, no one is oblivious to the devastating phenomenon that climate change is. With ‘ignorance is bliss’ etched onto our minds, we refuse to acknowledge how grave this global issue really is and blame the scorching heat of the summer of 2019 on mere fate. Unwilling to accept the part we play in this ‘natural’ crisis, we turn the air conditioner on, scroll past that post on Instagram and wait for this heat storm (sadly, not rain) to pass.
In a turn of attitude, however, students are now starting to take ownership of the issue, recognising how the open-air burning of toxic materials at garbage dumps contributes to a wider phenomenon – small but resilient fish against the sea of global terror that is environmental degradation. Minor decisions, such as carpooling to reduce exhaust emissions, or minimising purchase of single-use plastics could be your tiny role in this journey. If you wish to do something about it but are out of ideas, feel free to follow the Instagram handle of Lyceum’s Zero Waste Initiative and perhaps introduce it in your own institution.
Following are the email addresses of the authors: