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Poonam Bir Kasturi: Co-creating a mindset change

Green living is about building a perspective to progress that is rooted in our own relationship with nature and how we can align our daily lives with practices that are good for the planet. Inspiring such mindset change and creating an ecosystem that makes green living accessible for everyone is Poonam Bir Kasturi, founder of Daily Dump.

Daily Dump is a product-service system motivating people to re-imagine waste. It was set up with the purpose of reducing the waste generated by households, and ultimately reducing the pressure on public waste management systems.

We got in touch with her to learn more about nurturing the sustainability mindset and how she has been working to build an easy to replicate open-source composting systems model.

Daily Dump, has often described itself as being in the business of changing mindsets. It’d be great if you can tell us about your journey of managing the perception of waste in a country like India, where socio-cultural contexts heavily influence mindsets?

‘Waste is dirty’, ‘it is not my job’, people have never been shown that they can actually do something about the waste that they generate. They haven’t been pushed to think about waste, it has always been presented as someone else’s job.

There is a consciousness that emerges, a belief that I need to get on with my life and my life involves ‘this’ but does not involve ‘that’, and waste management never makes the list. The other obstacle was the belief that ‘it doesn’t matter if I do anything, everything is too bad anyway”, a sense of hopelessness. Followed by the third part which was “I won’t be able to do it right. It is dirty, and  I haven’t done it before”. We had to find a way that tackled all three corners of this mental trap. 

Our approach was focused on replacing this mental model with a different one, to create a demand. To create an awareness of this need while creating an industry with competitors working to fulfill this need in our urban landscape.

Re-imagining waste as the cornerstone of your mission must have resulted in some interesting reactions from people. How have you been able to motivate people to change a reaction as strong as disgust? Home-Composting seems almost revolutionary especially in a caste-ridden, purity-obsessed society like ours.

It is a big challenge, we push to make it easy. We push to make it fun, to give it an image of ‘oh this is such a cool thing to do’ like jogging or veganism. It was very important to replace the reluctance by building ownership. The only way we saw it working, was if people thought of it in simpler, personally relevant ways. You brush your teeth because you want clean teeth, you compost because you want clean soil and clean water. The trouble then became, relatability with nature. You can see your teeth and the consequences of not keeping them clean because they are yours. It is harder to identify with soil, and water, which is why it is important to create ownership, bring it closer to the people, making it their own thing that they need to care about.

Speaking of relatability,  I was amazed by the ‘Convince me’ section of the Daily Dump website:  Daily dump has a particularly interesting awareness campaign reaching out to a vast variety of critics and people from different kinds of backgrounds. It has a presence in 17 cities majorly based on word of mouth alone. How has that come about? Is this method of Individual appeal scalable?

We laugh at ourselves, we laugh at everybody. We would have been dead 5 years ago if we didn’t have this light but clear tone, this communication style that we have adapted for ourselves. Building a fun approach has been central to our work. We have this kind of brand loyalty because of the small circle, of giving people a chance to relate to our mission in their own way.

We had decided that the scale of the company would not be too big, but as for impact, as an idea, it has to spread and it has to be replicated as a practice. It has been spreading because of the approach we took: we wanted it to be open-sourced, we wanted it to be easily replicable to fit many different kinds of lifestyles. It was important for us to get the word out about the practice itself, get people to care about the idea.  The goal has always been to keep the conversation going.

Taking this conversation, to a different kind of stakeholder. I have read a lot about your workshops with children.  In one wholesome story about a child interested in and serious about composting, you spoke about a +nature lens. How can more parents, educators, teachers adopt it, and have these conversations with children from a young age?

There is a blind spot in how kids grow up. They don’t relate to nature or consider it as a bedrock of their growth. Especially for city kids, their relationship with nature is incomplete and often discovered much later in life. With this incomplete relationship, they grow up to become adults in decision making positions who make decisions that are harmful for that bedrock. We have through our work and workshops discovered some key processes, and the main one is to be out there and spend time in nature. You ask a city kid to describe how a river flows, they can share descriptors but they don’t know how it feels like. Kids today don’t see the technology in nature, they see a tree but they don’t see plumbing in a tree or the mechanics. So the +nature lens is all about pushing them to connect to nature, see it as an integral part of their growth: to build a sense of responsibility towards nature from a young age.

Listening to this, I have one last, fundamental question. What are your views about a “Zero- Waste Lifestyle”? Do you think it is for everyone... Can it be?

I had an interesting conversation with an ecological philosopher-evangelist who said that “the only ecological man is a dead one”. The very fact that you live implies you are increasing consumption-production, it is harming the environment. The big idea though is to be aware, aware of your consumption patterns. We live in a capitalist system where you have to consume to live. If tons of garment is coming from Bangladesh it has to come in plastic, it has to be transported and all of these processes harm the environment. Zero waste will push you to ask yourself whether you really need it, push you to buy less, buy local.

However, at a systemic level, there are many issues. Production at low cost is only done when there is scarcity, there isn’t enough local output to sustain a switch where everyone only buys local.
Systemic change will be very difficult to materialize anytime soon in a real sense but mindfulness about your own individual consumption and behavior patterns is a start.
It comes down to consciously taking little steps and understanding what it is that you can do.

To explore Daily Dump and their products

Check out their ‘ convince me’ section for some compelling arguments to start composting

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