"To damage the earth is to damage your children." – Wendell Berry, renowned American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer
Located on the banks of river Sabarmati in Palaj (Gandhinagar, Gujarat), IIT Gandhinagar understands the importance of this simple yet grave statement. The institute started its journey of protecting the environment right from the beginning – when it was founded in 2008 at Vishwakarma Government Engineering College, Chandkheda, its temporary campus. Almost from the start, it paid special attention to proper waste management. A firm supporter of the slogan 'clean environment, healthy environment,' the Institute started its initiatives before the launch of the 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' in 2014, which it is now proudly a part of.
Spread over 400 acres of land, the IIT Gandhinagar campus has been designed to preserve the ecology and environment. Sustainability is a core feature of the masterplan and not an afterthought. Apart from efficient waste segregation and disposal, the campus has undertaken several other green initiatives, viz., Jal Mandaps to ensure maximum rainwater harvesting for drinking purposes, low-energy sewage treatment plant to recycle water for horticulture, solar panels and water heaters to conserve electricity, organic farm to supply vegetables and fruits, self-shading buildings and passive cooling systems to provide thermal comfort to occupants, onsite use of eco-friendly materials, limited vehicular movement and pedestrian-friendly pathways for a pollution-free campus, among many others. Furthermore, there is no space to dump garbage at the back of the buildings, which has become a bad practice in many other educational institutes and residential places of India — indeed, most buildings are designed in such a way as to have no front or back! Low energy and resource consumption, as well as low maintenance costs, were the prime principles of IITGN's Green Campus development.
"The Institute became the first in the country to receive a 5-star rating from the Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment for Large Developments (GRIHALD). Developed jointly by GRIHA Council and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), it is a unique Indian National Rating System for buildings. Ranging from zero and 100, a lower score indicates higher environmental sustainability of the project. IITGN achieved this rating because of the range of features envisioned in its master-plan and executed in the campus development. Now, we aim to become a zero-waste campus," said Gaurav Srivastava, Dean (Campus Development) and Assistant Professor in Civil Engineering at the Institute.
Recently, IITGN has been ranked 4th in the 'residential university – All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE)' category at the third edition of the Swachhata Ranking Awards 2019. These awards aim to promote environmental hygiene in the higher education system and beyond. The shortlisting criteria comprised of student-toilet ratio, hostel and kitchen hygiene, availability of water, water conservation measures, administrative responsibility for hygiene, and campus greenery, to name a few.
A Responsible Community for a Better Tomorrow
The Institute believes in producing not just successful engineers and researchers but individuals who actively contribute towards the welfare of the society. Working towards a green and clean environment which forms the foundation of a healthy and happy society, IITGN is able to divert about 1300 kg of waste from landfills per day, thanks to proper waste segregation. It starts right from the source where the mini-dustbins of offices, classrooms, and homes are kept separate, based on different types of waste. This goes to bigger colour-coded bins – green for organic waste, blue for dry paper or plastic, red for food contaminated plastic and disposables and black for sanitary napkins, diapers, used waxing strips, ear-buds or anything contaminated with blood. The components from the green bins are fed to composting pits or to the in-house biogas plant which uses them as raw material for electricity and manure production, whereas the ones from the blue bins are separated and sent for recycling to WOW Waste Management Private Limited (Ahmedabad). The portion of the red bins goes to the landfills and the biomedical and lab waste is sent to the E-coli Biomedical Waste Management Company (Ahmedabad) for final disposal.
These colour coded bins are installed throughout the campus. A team of responsible housekeeping staff collects waste from the housing and academic areas daily. E-waste such as batteries, old phones, cables, chargers, etc. is stored separately and collected every last Sunday of each month. Broken glass items are stored in a separate bag. Expired and unused medicines are deposited in the bins provided in the Dispensary to ensure its proper disposal.
According to the latest statistics, 1,200 kg of food waste generated on campus every day gets converted into biogas and compost. The remaining shredded biomass (slurry) is added to the five composting pits, which eventually gets converted to natural fertilizer for the Institute's gardens. From July 2016 to June 2018, about 31,000 kg of waste from the campus was systematically recycled, generating revenue of more than Rs. 2,00,000. The students also take an active part in the waste management process. IIT Gandhinagar recognizes the importance of these efforts and as an appreciation, confers awards on Republic Day every year.
Save Environment, Save Lives
We all are well aware of the ill effects of plastic on our health and our environment. Constantly striving towards becoming a no-plastic campus, IIT Gandhinagar has strongly discouraged the purchase of items in plastic bags. Customized cloth and paper bags have been made available to the Institute community for shopping. The launch of the Green Bottle Campaign, which promotes reusable bottles for serving water and other beverages, has resulted in a drastic reduction of plastic bottles. Plastic cutlery – straws, glasses, and plates – are not used in any of the campus shops.
"The major milestone was the maximum eradication of disposables from the campus! The entire IITGN community actively supports and contributes towards efficient management of waste – they understand their responsibility towards their environment and their future generations. Our mission is a future without landfills and we are vigilantly progressing towards achieving the same. There is a big difference between cleaning the environment and managing the waste and I can proudly say that we are working on both of these spheres. 90% of the waste is safely taken care of, the next step is to make it a 100%," expressed Nupur Tandon, the waste management consultant of IITGN and founding director of Pro Waste Concepts Private Limited, a Bangalore based waste management company.
Regular emails and announcements are circulated within the Institute community spreading awareness about the proper segregation and management of waste materials. The campus is continuously working towards rethinking and redefining waste for sustainable development by ensuring maximum participation of people. As a future plan, it is searching for ways to efficiently tackle the low-grade non-recyclable wastes such as wrappers of biscuit packets, tetra-packs, etc. There is also a need to educate the floating community of visitors, internship-students, project assistants, etc., and organize events and conferences promoting the idea of a zero-waste community.
Chairman of the Green office and Professor in Humanities at IIT Gandhinagar, Michel Danino, said, "The 5-star Green Campus rating is a significant achievement for campus so young. The infrastructure and architecture of this place are beautiful and sustainable at the same time! Our community is well aware of the negative impacts of pollution on our planet. Through these initiatives, we are doing our bit and we believe that many such contributions, country-wide as well as worldwide, together will eventually lead to a bigger and more positive impact in protecting our Mother Earth."