More and more individuals and organisations are practising the concept of recycling in their everyday lives. Discarding the largely western culture of use-and-throw, many are now into using and reusing products.

Take clothes which are kind of worn-out, or shoes which don't have the same grip or don't fit at all. They need not land in the dustbin. They are old but need not be considered as waste. As Anshu Gupta of Goonj, an New Delhi-based NGO, says, "It is better to look at these things as resources which could be used effectively by others."

Goonj team sorting out old clothes. Pic: Goonj.

Goonj recycles anything and everything for the poor and marginalised communities. So, old clothes (in wearable condition), utensils, buckets, school bags, books, computers, paper, electronic goods, cupboards - all can be part of Goonj's most wanted list.

As cities grapple with the huge problem of tackling urban waste, there is a growing realisation among some to re-use old stuff, which will put less pressure on the environment and support a family or a community. As Gupta says, "On an average, there is a 20 year gap across the board in the urban and rural consumption patterns."

Goonj, which started in 1998, redistributes old clothes, utensils, medicines, books and other items to the poor and to people living in conflict-affected areas (like Jammu and Kashmir) or to those who have suffered from a natural disaster.

Goonj's special campaign has been the clean cloth project for women. Women in many parts of India have poor or no access to a clean piece of cloth for sanitary napkins. Goonj provides old sarees or dhotis which can be cut into napkins to cater to this intimate need of women.

The NGO is linked with several partners in different states who help in collecting and segregating the old and waste items. The organisation works in 14 states through 100 agencies and also works with the Indian army in Jammu and Kashmir. The army helps Goonj send several items to people in remote villages of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also linked with a number of transport companies that channel the goods across India, free of cost or at very subsidised rates.

Anshu Gupta says that in most urban homes, disposing off old clothes is a problem.

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Segregation of 'waste' or used material has to be done according to the geographical and cultural needs. Today Goonj handles 10,000 kg of such material from Delhi itself.

Gupta says in most urban homes, disposing off old clothes is a problem. He rejects the popular notion that old clothes are not accepted by disaster-struck people. He says that it's the wrong kind of clothes - woollens for tsunami victims or sarees for Muslim women - which get rejected. Cultural traditions have to be taken into account while sending any item.

Says Gupta: "Clothes provide dignity and one must understand this while sending clothes to disaster affected people. Clothes are a morale booster - wearing better clothes improves a person's self image, making the person work harder for a better life."

Goonj also collects old textbooks, notebooks, pencils and erasers from urban schools and makes them available to students in village schools. Gupta says that one strong reason for the high dropout rate is the inability of the poor students to afford the recurring expenditure on notebooks and stationery. Their availability, on the other hand, is an incentive to continue with studies. Gupta was elected to an Ashoka Fellowship in 2004 for his work in civic engagement and community participation.

Small but significant efforts are also being made by individuals in this direction. Take the Pillai family in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. Old clothes and other items are collected for a year and then sold during an annual sale in their backyard. The prices range from Rs.2 for a blouse to Rs.10 for a saree. These clothes are bought by the economically weaker sections. The amount collected is used for a school for children with special needs.

Schools like the Mother's International and Sanskriti, both in Delhi, recycle paper in a big way. The Mother's International uses a lot of recycled paper for everyday office work. Both the schools have paper units which make boards, cards, chart papers - all of which is used extensively in school. At Sanskriti, spare newspapers are also given to Frendicoes, a shelter for stray animals. Since the organisation deals with sick, maimed animals, the newspapers come in handy to line their beds. (Women's Feature Service)