On a sunny Sunday afternoon last July in south Bengaluru, a handful of volunteers went around Jayanagar, from one coconut vendor to the next, collecting coconut husks. The group, made up mostly of women, collected a total of 5,230kg of coconut husks. These were transported to a farm a short distance away to be used as mulch. With this collection drive, the group managed to abate 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions: a proactive effort to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The volunteers are all part of the Gigatonne (Gt) Challenge, a citizen-led global initiative that is attempting to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. The Gt volunteers have set themselves an ambitious target of trying to reduce 10Gt of carbon emissions by 2030 from the atmosphere.
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The challenge, which was launched in October 2020, is a grassroots response to averting dangerous climate change. Conceived by British climate action strategist, Zaid Hassan, teams from around the world, including from South Africa, Jordan, Hawaii and India, aim to reduce emissions level by diverting food waste, creating gardens or any other solutions that work in their local context. The Bengaluru team is one of only two teams from India, with the other team working in Vadodara. The aim of the challenge is to find ways to reduce global emissions by one Gt of CO2 emissions every year, while trying to find ways to help those affected by the climate crisis. So far, teams from around the world have managed to abate about 105 tonnes of CO2.
The Bengaluru team has so far managed to reduce 33.25 tonnes of CO2 emissions by diverting 8,500 kgs of food waste in the last 10 months: in this case, coconut husks that are thrown away by vendors. They estimated that about 50,000 coconuts are sold in the city on any given day and the waste produced from this adds up to a considerable amount. Without any concerted effort made at waste segregation, most of this coconut waste ends up in landfills where they are burnt, resulting in additional CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Globally, about eight percent of GHG emissions are from food waste.
“Through our efforts, we want to answer the question that many ask, which is: I know climate change is a problem, but what can I do? This challenge is a way to do something concrete—not just switch off your light bulbs or buy sustainable products, but joining a local team that is connected to a global network of teams from all over the world that are all working toward reducing greenhouse gases,” says Sweta Daga, A Bengaluru-based writer who is part of the team.
It is estimated that the city of Bengaluru emits about 2.2 tonnes of GHGs every year. The sources of these emissions are many, including road transport, industrial emissions and emissions from domestic consumption. Together, these add up to make the city the sixth worst polluter in India.
For Shipra Agarwal, 31, a sustainability consultant who helps offices and individuals manage their waste better, her work with the Gt Challenge offers a way to exercise her agency. “I have a background in waste management and sustainability and in my sector, the problems seemed so large and huge. I was constantly perplexed by not having any agency and was unhappy with the role that a common person can play to avert disaster,” she says. She adds that the Gt challenge has helped the team find ways to tackle the problem as a community. “I am truly hopeful that our work will help in some small way in lowering carbon emissions.”
Those part of the Gt challenge are hoping that the success of the participating teams will inspire more people to join the effort. “The climate crisis is accelerating. We are drowning in plans. They haven’t worked for 30 years and they will not start magically working today. It’s very hard to discern a route out of this crisis. The Gt challenge provides a potential route out but it requires us to have the imagination to see it and the courage to take it,” says Zaid Hassan.
Meanwhile in Bengaluru, Agarwal, Daga and team are aiming to take their contribution in reducing CO2 emissions to the next level. Agarwal says, “Our next step is to work with existing systems. We have so many informal waste workers who pretty much form the backbone of waste management. We want to see how we can plug into such existing systems to reduce CO2 emissions.” Till then, the Gt team will focus on abating GHG emissions one coconut husk at a time.
Sibi Arasu is a Bengaluru-based journalist and tweets @sibi123.