Nishant Jain isn’t your average teenager. A teen on a mission, he has managed to collect and help recycle over 350 kgs of batteries, and even started a movement to collect batteries and e-waste from several schools all over Mumbai. It all started back when there was a dumpyard fire in February 2015, at the infamous Deonar dumping grounds. The Air Quality Index dropped immensely, vision was affected, and respiratory problems became a regular occurrence for the citizens of this area. Nishant was one of those affected, and developed bronchitis. This bothered him but at that point in time, he was unable to do anything.
As he was throwing away some batteries one day, he noticed a warning on the battery advising users to dispose of them carefully, as they could explode around fire, or under immense pressure. “Back then, we didn’t even have proper segregation between wet and dry waste. I asked my parents about the warning on the batteries, and even they weren’t sure. They encouraged me to do my own research, till I came across an answer,” Nishant says, slowly gaining his confidence as the conversation moves towards his mission at hand.
He continues, “I learned that not only could batteries cause dumpyard fires to grow, as they explode, but they could also start fires. If you put enough pressure on a battery, it can burst. Just watch a YouTube video of pressure being applied on a battery, and you’ll know what I mean. So, you can only imagine the consequences of tonnes of trash being piled up on discarded batteries.”
The biggest hurdle Nishant faced was the lack of awareness surrounding the disposal of batteries. His family, his friends, and their parents were all unaware of the environmental hazards. Talking to his friends about the problem at hand, didn’t seem to spark any interest, so Nishant decided to go through his school, and start giving presentations.
“Batteries can be recycled. We have the technology to do so, right here in Mumbai. India uses 2.5 billion dry cell batteries a year! I got permission from my school to start giving presentations, because my father and I realized that would be the ideal target group. If you talk to adults right away, no one will pay attention. When you talk to their children though, they’re excited about this initiative. They go home and tell their parents about their day, and what they learned; which is how we get across to them.” A wise decision indeed, for he explains that this requires little to no effort from the parent’s part. They hand their children dead batteries, the children come to school, and simply drop it into collection containers. His school keeps containers that help aid his attempts to collect batteries, before he hands them over to a recycling plant, who have agreed to do it at no cost, as long as the amount to be recycled exceeded 500kgs.
It wasn’t until another fire, in February 2016, that he realized he would have to do something a bit more drastic. His father, Amit Jain, was more than supportive of Nishant wanting to reach out to other schools, which is where Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness (CMCA) came in. Nishant came across them by chance, as he was watching a TV show named, ‘Aaj Ki Raat Hai Zindagi’ wherein a little girl from a rural village in South India, managed to raise funds to build toilets in her village with CMCA’s help.
With CMCA being based in Mumbai, he knew that they could definitely help him, if he reached out. And help, they did. They got him in touch with 30 schools, that they worked with. His father and him have also approached the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) who work with around 1500 schools. “Sadly, this has been slow so far. We’ve even written letters to the President and Prime Minister. We hope we can be part of the Swachh Bharat movement,” says Amit Jain, earnestly. Although Nishant has his hands full right now, he manages to make time to visit each school, and set up collection bins. He also keeps in touch with them regularly, through social media or WhatsApp. Besides schools, his own society is part of the initiative, as there are about a 100 families who collectively dump their batteries into specific bins located in the lobbies of each building.
“Our second biggest hurdle is finding like-minded people to spread the word. When people move out of the organizations or schools that we’ve spoken to previously, it is hard to reinstate that rapport with the new person. Sometimes, the new people don’t carry on the work we’ve started, which means we’ve got to keep going back to keep the collection drive and flow going, which is time intensive.”
Besides batteries, they also collect e-waste. However, e-waste is collected only on appointed days of the year, as storage of these items becomes a problem. In the future, collection will be done hopefully, via allotted spots by the BMC. For example, the western suburbs will have a spot in Khar. Thus, collection will happen on one single day, from places to cut down costs. When Nishant talks about his future, he remains positive, “Our goal for the future is to have every school in Mumbai helping us, with collection. Then, the country. I plan to take this project of mine with me, wherever I go, for further education. I just hope I receive the support for it.”
Feature Image Credit: Amit Jain
Words: Cara Shrivastava