Born in a farmer family in Pennsylvania, USA, Dana Crider always felt an intimate bond with nature.
His journey led him to Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, where he became a Maths teacher for over three decades. In starting his NGO, Mr Crider joined the early efforts of friends Carol Alter, Devika Singh, Yvonne Satow and Richard Wechter to build a mass drive to clean the famous hill station and educate people about waste segregation and disposal methods. He also campaigned for waste segregation and banning the use of plastic.
KEEN (Keeping the Environment Ecologically Natural) has been keeping Mussoorie spotlessly clean since 1995. In May 2016, KEEN collected more than 6,000 kg of recyclable waste from residences and from cleaning the hill sides.
Mr Crider took over the operations of KEEN in 2005. In his two decades in KEEN and three decades in Missouri, he has built a formidable and inspiring team of waste collectors who are known in the hill station for collecting and managing waste from over 1,000 houses and nearly 50 hotels.
The team members are masters of segregation, ensuring that there is hardly any residue left to be incinerated. KEEN has also partnered with the Municipal Council to educate locals about waste segregation.
Thanks to Mr Crider and his team, Mussoorie is now cleaner and healthier.
Daily, KEEN handles 1600-2000 kg of dry waste
Speaking to The Logical Indian, Mr Crider said, “An amazing statistic which we at KEEN have verified over the years of work is that with careful and consistent separation of waste at source of generation, 80-90% of dry waste can be recycled. Please take a moment to dwell on this amazing fact: depending on financial status, a normal family unit may generate between 3 to 10 kg per day of dry waste (newspaper, scrap paper, hard plastic, glass, tin, aluminium, water bottles, soft plastic, etc) and we are removing waste from 1000+ households daily: do the math. Daily, we handle some 1600 to 2000 kg of what could and should be dry waste from those households and if only 10 to 20% cannot be recycled, we would be searching for a solution for maybe 400 kg of material which would not currently be recyclable.”
From the early days of KEEN it was clear to Mr Crider that at-source separation of biowaste and non-biodegradable waste was the first big step toward accomplishing the ageless aims of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’.
It is interesting to note that at-source attention to segregating personal waste seems to have an immediate impact on personal awareness about amount of waste generated and provokes thought about reducing and reusing.
“Our one singular unsolved challenge,” Mr Crider said, “is to change patterns of ‘normal’ behaviour: getting households and hoteliers to separate waste. Bengaluru and other municipalities have accomplished this, generally, but I’m sure you can identify with the difficulty of persuading the citizenry and tourists to dispense waste responsibly.”
Why Mussoorie in particular?
Mr Crider has taught Mathematics at Woodstock School for more than 30 years. He and his wife are residential parents there.
The Criders have had four children of their own and have tried to parent some 90+ boys for each of eleven years of residential living. “Along with enjoying broader community relationships through local church involvement and interaction with several area schools via sports and other ways, there is the challenge of pressing on with KEEN. Goodness, why would I want to be anywhere else?”
Waste segregation: best practices
Mr Crider opines that the increase of tourist traffic to Mussoorie in the last 20 years has resulted in an increase in discarded waste on the hillside.
This has led to an accompanying disregard for good practice by town residents. “A case may also be made,” he said, “for an increase in disregard for nature that parallels the increase in disposable income in the last 12 to 15 years.”
The Logical Indian asked Mr Crider about the means of waste segregation and disposal that we should all be aware of and apply in our daily lives. He said the best practice for most, maybe all, of our communities and cities begins with concerted and disciplined separation of wet, biodegradable waste from non-biodegradable waste. Next steps of segregation can help in cutting down the time spent on further separation into marketable categories.
“I believe this process shows long-term sustainability, and it needs to be accompanied by public pressure to change the packaging procedures for some products which we consume. Research needs to be pursued to find alternative packaging for such things as candy wrappers, chip or crisp bags, air-filled bags for shipping cushions and tetra packs, as these are difficult to recycle. This research, accompanied by concerted insistence of discontinued use of plastic bags and polystyrene (thermocol), as it is estimated that these take at least 1,000 years for disintegration.”
Mr Crider’s message to The Logical Indian community is simple: “The stated and tested adage of Reduce – Reuse – Recycle is by all means the order in which to address waste management. Let us never give up!”
The Logical Indian community thanks Dana Crider and his team at KEEN for their efforts in cleaning Mussoorie and hopes they continue to experience success. The status of waste disposal in India, a country with one-fifth of the global population, is extremely worrying. At times like these, individual warriors like Mr Crider are a desperately needed ray of hope.
To connect with KEEN and Dana Crider, readers can visit KEEN’s official Facebook page here.