Poonam Bir Kasturi: Designing the Daily Dump
Poonam Bir Kasturi‘s passion for design and the environment is epitomised in the elegant and practical “Daily Dump” home composting system. It was selected as one of the “Top Nominees” for the INDEX Design Award in 2007, apart from receiving several other awards.
Poonam talks about her inspiration behind this great design idea, and why composting is a much needed decentralised waste management solution. She is based in Bangalore, India.
EWTT: You have a solid background in Industrial Design, Technology and Art, a powerful combination! How did the idea of the Daily Dump come to you?
Poonam: It is strange but the first project at design school was about waste in a city. My Dad was a very proud Indian and he was also a designer, he would inspire me and my siblings about working for this great country, of working to solve immediate issues with design. He left a deep impression on my life when he passed away in 1987. Growing up in such a family and then being privileged to study at NID (National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad) at the time it was just awakening, did a lot to building a sense of purpose.
Teaching design also helped distill the values that I wanted to hold on to, and then being a bit of a rebel helped.So I left my teaching, I had got tired by academic inertia and ineptitude. I began Daily Dump as my experiment, my way to make sense of the mess that I literally and metaphorically see in and around me.
I am very wary of officialdom, grandiose plans, and I have found that in this euphoria of becoming “developed” we are not paying attention to basics. We see a large mass of people with the lens of “What they don’t have”. We never ask “What do they have”.
For example – our kabbadiwallas (waste collectors) – the educated and the powerful see them as lacking education, purpose, reliability, professionalism. That is one way of seeing them. In my mind, there is another way of seeing them. They are the repositories of very important knowledge, they know which material can be recycled and which cannot, they pick up what we throw and don’t make demands for larger subsidies, and can do a lot with very little. They are the epitome of lean management and organisation and just-in-time inventory. And we do not know how to leverage this vast knowledge pool.
How can India “develop” when we see most of our own brethren as underdeveloped? The mass of people who immigrate into our cities, can recognise a weed from a plant, a herb from a toxic seed, and they are made to pour concrete for our bridges. They know what others have to learn for many years to know, and we have robbed them of their dignity of knowledge and made them feel truly poor.
We need that knowledge, and they need some knowledge, and we don’t facilitate knowledge. Instead, we build systems to use labour, not knowledge and we think we are on the highway to development.
EWTT: Could you tell us about the materials used in manufacturing Daily Dump, the logic of the design concept, the use of aesthetics and practicality?
Poonam: When I was prototyping composting, I found that terracotta was the best material because it was porous and controlled the excessive water that is discharged during decomposition. Also having worked with crafts for a long time, I had found that the potters skills were being lost; potter families no longer wanted their children to continue in the trade because we had stopped using pots to cook, store or use in our daily lives. So I thought this would be a great starting point – to be able to provide potters a product that would provide them a steady income; while simultaneously solving an urban problem.
And the terracotta pot is a symbol of an enduring Indian icon. You see it and you feel the earth, you connect, that is the power of this material. I know in my heart that once we need larger volumes, we might have to make this in plastic that looks like terracotta, but till then, I savour this material everyday.
EWTT: How do you see Daily Dump as a desperately required waste management solution?
Poonam: Bangalore produces 3000 to 4500 tonnes of waste everyday. Just the logistics of collecting and carting this amount means that we need to deploy so many more trucks everyday and add to the congestion of our cities and then dump in a toxic landfill that will be part of the city soon. While the city budgets for waste are huge, there is lot of leak in the funds due to corruption. So waste just does not get picked up, or gets picked up late and is not recycled.
De-centralised systems in this climate are more likely to be effective and sustainable. Our products help keep 3.5 tonnes of organic waste out of landfill everyday. This means that the dry waste is recyclable and also organic fertilizer is produced. We need many more decentralised systems in place to help tackle the waste issues.
In this video, Poonam makes a strong case for why each one of us should start composting at home, and not overly rely on centralised systems of waste management.
EWTT: What is your business model, and how did you go about implementing it?
Poonam: We need to make enough money to survive and pay for our research. So we set a target on sales and then just as long as we achieve that target we are happy, it clears up mindspace to do the research. The entire team works on day to day work as well as research. We are a flat organisation.
EWTT: How do you get buy-ins from households who are totally new to the idea of composting? And keep up their motivation levels? What challenges do households face typically in managing their Daily Dump and how do you assist in the process?
Poonam: We have a policy, we do not push a sale. We promote composting and not our products. So the tone we take when we do demos and presentations is – there are many solutions – the pit is the cheapest and best for instance; but each has its pros and cons. So choose and do composting. This gets us a lot of trust and our backend services are slowly becoming more robust. We have a customer follow up service and we buy back composters in case you are not satisfied or are unhappy with the process.
Everyone in cities is scared of creepy crawlies, so we have a bug box at the billing counter, we talk about maggots and tell the stories and if the customer can take that, we have a sale.
EWTT: You offer Daily Dump as a Creative Commons Licence to be replicated anywhere, which is really generous. How many have taken it up as “Clones“and what have their experiences been? What kind of numbers would you like to see?
Poonam: It is not generosity, its laziness. I know my limitations. If you think I enjoy the idea of setting up offices all over the country and spending my time hiring and motivating people, sorry, not my cup of tea. That is for management types, people who read excel sheets and live lives hopping off and on planes. I like to sit in my studio and work, and talk to people who want to discuss waste, to health inspectors and to children. That besides, there are many Daily Dump Clones in the country – 10 so far and 2 abroad. And many more in the pipeline.
We all met last year for two days in Goa to discuss our issues and to learn from each other. I think we need at least 500 clones in each city. And I would like to see more and more services revolving around urban farming, small enterprises building valuable services and products and local enterpise flourishing.
Waste solutions cannot belong to one person – they belong to all of us. That is what I believe.
EWTT: What are your future plans?
Poonam: I wish I really had a plan – in truth, I don’t. I meander, wander and have a wonderful team of 5 incredible women who are madder than me. So we just do what needs to be done that day and think of what needs to be done in the area once a week. This keeps us going.
EWTT: What is your dream for the planet?
That nature takes over from Man – soon. It is that time of the earth.
Further links you may be interested in:
The Daily Dump website
This is part of our series where we profile or interview changemakers in the areas of environment and sustainabililty.
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