While most of us discard empty Tetra Pak cartons after use, a 57-year-old science teacher and 1,360 of her students have found an alternative use for them.
For the past three years, Stancy Estibiero and her students from Mary Immaculate Girl’s High School, Kalina have recycled more than 30,000 cartons and converted them into benches, reusable bins, desks and notebooks.
In August, 2013, students from class 5 to 10 were sensitised about the benefits of recycling by experts in waste management, RUR Greenlife (Are You Reducing Reusing Recycling) through presentations, demonstrations and street plays. They began collecting empty cartons from their school and neighbourhood, under Estibiero’s supervision, and sent them to Sahakari Bhandar, a firm that recycles waste products in a Palghar plant.
Currently, only 20% of used Tetra Pak cartons are recycled in the city, according to RUR Greenlife. The remaining end up at overburdened dumping grounds,where they are mixed with other dry waste such as plastic, debris and cloth. This makes the process of decomposition take much longer, and generates suppressed methane, which easily ignites.
“People have umpteen opportunities to save the earth through small initiatives of their own. This was our way of doing it,” said Estibiero, who has been teaching at the school for 33 years. “Asa science teacher, it was easier for me to sensitise my students as the information was consolidated as a part of Environmental Sciences (EVS) subject for classes 9 and 10.”
She added that cartons are first cut open, flattened and then washed before being deposited in bins.
Three years on, the recycling plant at Palghar provided the school with five benches — kept at different floors of the school — a garden bench, a table, several notebooks, pads and a bin to collect more cartons.
“The project became a movement, with teachers also collecting and depositing cartons,” said Sister Jessy, principal, adding that the project helped implement the segregation of paper waste in all classrooms. “Students do not waste a single piece of paper. These are collected separately.”
The project garnered significance after former students implemented the plan at their colleges. Vibha Rai, 17, an ex-student replicated the project at Apostolic Carmel High School and Junior College, Bandra (West). “The advantages of this are manifold. Most importantly, it acts as an alternative for wood, which helps save trees,” she said.
“Our parents were surprised when we told them about the benefits of such a project,” said Saubiya Sayyed, 16, a student. “As the concept is so unique, we were thrilled to see the recycling process at Palghar, where benches were put together from what we had collected. This inspired us to collect more cartons,” she said.