Meet Vihaan and Nav
Vihaan and Nav founded their youth organisation, One Step Greener in 2018 to prevent pollution caused by waste. Delhi was the world’s most polluted capital for the third straight year in 2020. Three years earlier, Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill collapsed, causing the death of two people, and leading to a major pollution spike, which made Vihaan realise the link between waste and air pollution, and the harmful effects of methane fires. The brothers’ first initiative was on waste segregation and organising waste pickup drives. From a start point of 15 homes, One Step Greener is now collecting waste from more than 1,000 households, schools and offices, recycling 173,630 kgs of waste up to this year. They have also started planting native trees, reaching 1,000 so far, and continue to strive to increase awareness of the issue, reaching over 45,000 young people through talks and training.
How it started
For as long as they can remember, Vihaan and Nav have always been interested in nature and wildlife. They love watching David Attenborough documentaries, and Vihaan fondly recalls how, every year, his mother would put a caterpillar in a jar with some leaves so that the brothers could watch it transform into a butterfly. Their ability to be in nature was getting significantly affected by the growing air pollution concerns in Delhi.
But it was not until more recently that Vihaan and Nav decided to take matters in their own hand regarding the issue of air pollution. In 2017, Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill collapsed, killing two people and causing a significant spike in pollution. That was when Vihaan made the connection between waste and air pollution. 33% of Delhi’s air pollution was being caused by mixed waste burning in landfill sites. The continuous fires produced methane and pollution and endangered the children who worked there, picking up rags. Even if people were to segregate their waste, the authorities would dump it all in landfill.
Vihaan didn’t want his own family’s waste to contribute to the problem, and started hoarding it at home. But this was not a lasting solution so the boys put their minds to finding one.
One Step Greener
In 2018, at the ages of 14 and 11, Vihaan and Nav founded One Step Greener (OSG), which now has five full-time employees, including two former ragpickers, and 11 dedicated young volunteers working towards the goal of a ‘Zero Waste India’.
Their first initiative was the segregation and management of waste, to prevent it from ending up in landfill. Vihaan came up with the idea of organising dry waste pick-ups within their local community for recycling. They started their service in 2018 with 15 homes, and, just two years later, they were collecting waste from more than 1,000 households, schools and offices.
What started off as a simple relaying of messages within their community’s WhatsApp groups is now a successful, city-wide operation. “I am more of a big picture person,” explains Vihaan, “and Nav helps with the execution and implementation.” The brothers take time after school, sometimes devoting 4-5 hours per day to the organisation, but still managing to enjoy outdoor sports and extra-curricular activities such as debating.
The entire initiative started through a bootstrap model and until now, they still do not have significant external funding. With a group of dedicated volunteers, they aim to make the organisation more sustainable by instilling responsibility in people and their communities. To date, they use spaces leased out by other family members who pitched in to help, and hire the truck for the waste pick-ups with the help of one of their family members who owns a business. They pay for the fuel and the driver’s salary with the money they collect through fundraising.
Planting native trees and mini-forests
In the summer of 2019, Vihaan and Nav embarked on another endeavour to reduce pollution, by planting native trees and creating mini-forests. They received support from NGOs and the national department for forestation and so far, they have planted and maintained over 1700+ native trees in their city. More than 900 people have contributed financially, and more than 300 children and volunteers have participated in fundraising, planting, and biodiversity assessment activities.
To make a permanent change, the brothers recognise the importance of spreading the message of environmental sustainability among their own generation. They have developed a curriculum in English and Hindi, including an activity book, which is used in over 100 schools in Delhi. Vihaan and Nav have now reached over 45,000 people through talks and training sessions, teaching people about the importance of waste segregation.
Impact in numbers
The impact of their work can’t be measured in numbers alone, but Vihaan and Nav shared some important figures. Through their own efforts 173,630 kg of waste have been recycled, 4,623 trees were saved / planted, 2,281,493 litres of water were saved, 131,162 homes were powered with the electricity saved, 1,005 cubic meters of landfill space were prevented, 27,740,264 pounds of oxygen were generated, 14 localities in India were reached and 162,422 pounds of carbon was sequestered.
“If we want a better future” is their message to the world, “then as children, we must love the earth and do our best to protect and free it from all types of pollution.”
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