Recycling India 

Martha Farrell
Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA)




There are many nice phrases used when global citizenship is mentioned. If there is a globe to be a citizen of, we must look at how we populate it, and how we behave. In this world of abundance and access to resources (for some of the population), it is rather easy for us to use more than what we need and forget the need to conserve. Conserving resources is important, not merely because all humans do not have the same access to resources. It is also important because of the impact consumption has on our planet and our negligence could mean that the next generation may be totally deprived of these resources. If that happens – forget global citizenship.

“The fact that we spend more than 50% of our waking hours in our offices is a good reason to start conservation here.”

The fact that we spend more than 50% of our waking hours in our offices is a good reason to start conservation here. In PRIA, we try to conserve our resources in as many ways as possible – human, energy, water, food and, of course, finances. I have listed a few ways in which we conserve resources, given the context in which we operate and an analysis of what we are really saving.


All lights and fans are switched off whenever we are not at our individual workstations. During lunch hour, all lights and fans and computer monitors are switched off for the entire floor.

Room heaters in winter and air conditioners in summer are switched on in rotation. For example, if a room has five air conditioners, only three will be switched on every day. So while the room is cool or warm in general, one spot might be a little warmer or colder than others, but this is bearable as it is only for one day in the week.

For our guest rooms, we now plan to have a mechanism whereby water heaters, room heaters and air conditioners are centrally switched off by the housekeeping staff between 11 am and 4 pm every day. So even if a guest has inadvertently left these on, electricity will not be consumed unnecessarily. If the guests are in their rooms, the fans are always on and in winter there is plenty of sunlight!

Some of us need the elevator! We tried to switch off the elevator one day in the week to conserve energy. This failed. Some staff could not use the stairs for health reasons. Our guest house is on the 4th floor and carrying luggage up without an elevator was truly a challenge. Still, we encourage all to opt for the healthier option of climbing stairs.


In India we recycle almost everything and this is true in PRIA as well.

The rules:

  • If a paper has been used only on one side, it is collected and spiral bound into rough note pads.
  • Old newspapers are collected and sold to a recycling company, who in turn give us products made from recycled paper – such as scratch pads, envelopes, writing pads and other stationery items.
  • Carry home takeaway plastic food containers are stored and reused to store food items.
  • Cardboard boxes are recycled and used for packing lunches/meals for those who are travelling. Staff use these boxes to carry home leftover delights from our “participatory lunches” – an event where all staff get together to cook an entire eight-course meal. Happens once in a quarter!
  • Staff bring in reusable plastic and paper bags to carry personal items or, if fancy enough, these are used as gift bags.  

“In the nine hours when staff are working in the office, we were changing at least 36 hand towels, and even then hygiene was being compromised.”

At PRIA we have opted to use paper towels in our washrooms, as the cost of soap and water and the impact on the environment was far greater when we were using cloth towels. In the nine hours when staff are working in the office, we were changing at least 36 hand towels, and even then hygiene was being compromised. It also meant housekeeping staff spent four hours just to change, wash, dry, iron and store the towels.

We conserve energy by drying our clothes in the sun and use the electric dryer during the monsoons or when the sun is hiding – which is rarely.

Pleeeease open the paper in which the gift is wrapped carefully!! Try recycling the gift wrapping paper. There are some occasions when this may not always be possible:

  1. Thinner wrapping paper tends to tear. Recycling became time consuming and did not work. Besides, the use of less expensive paper in itself is a form of conservation!
  2. When some people tear off the wrapping paper, it is as if the joy of receiving the gift was as much in ripping open the wrapping! The scattered paper brings joy to that one person alone.

These are some ways we at PRIA try to conserve resources. We would love to learn from the experiences of others!  

About the author

Dr Martha Farrell (1959–2015) 
A few days after Martha Farrell, an NGO leader and adult educator, submitted this text, she was among 14 people killed in a Taliban attack on a guest house in Kabul, Afghanistan on 13 May 2015. Her death is a big loss not only for her family and friends but also for the Indian and global adult education community, of which she was an integral part. Martha held a PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi and a Master’s in Social Work from Delhi University. She began her career as a literacy worker and consistently widened her scope of work to adult education, becoming a keen advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. She was Director of PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia), New Delhi. She led PRIA’s work on distance education, founding and developing PRIA International Academy, the academic wing of the organisation, which runs global courses around development issues through its Open and Distance Learning programme.

Contact PRIA 
42, Tughlakabad Institutional Area 
New Delhi – 110062 

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