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Churning the Earth: Workshop by Pooja Choksi

August 4, 2014 • Posted in: News, Workshops

Have you ever picked up the wrapper of your favourite cookies or chips to understand what really went into making it?

This week our students at the E-Base did just this. Very often, we, as consumers, are unaware of the impact of our choices. Be it in the form of our carbon footprint or fueling the business of mining precious elements of the Earth.

Pooja elucidating the meaning of having a product that travels endless number of kilometres to reach a customer. (Image: Jash Koradia)

Pooja elucidating the meaning of having a product that travels endless number of kilometres to reach a customer. (Image: Jash Koradia)

Our program manager, Pooja, dissected the components of a simple biscuit that is available across the country for a paltry Rs. 5.00. By doing so, the students analyzed the ingredients that make up a commodity that is so cheaply available even in the remotest parts of India. What makes this biscuit packet so cheap and what exactly are the students consuming when they decide to make the biscuits their evening snack were the two main areas of enquiry. Through an extremely entertaining game the students discovered that the ingredients travel thousands of kilometres to reach a factory, where they are converted into biscuits.

Students on a trail to find the ingredients and calculate the total distance travelled to make a packet of biscuits.

Students on a trail to find the ingredients and calculate the total distance travelled to make a packet of biscuits.

Our volunteer for the week, jash Koradia and our Pench coordinator, Subhash assist a group through the ingredient trail.

Our volunteer for the week, jash Koradia and our Pench coordinator, Subhash assist a group through the ingredient trail.

How many kilometres could these ingredients be travelling? 1000? 5000? Turns out our ingredients travel a good 9000+ kilometres to the factory and then to their eventual consumer. Let’s not even try to calculate the carbon footprint of these biscuits!

This is the map of ingredients that are used in the biscuit we fondly eat. (Image: Jash Koradia)

This is the map of ingredients that are used in the biscuit we fondly eat. (Image: Jash Koradia)

Next, the students picked up their beloved phone which our Pench Coordinator, Subhash, had mercilessly taken apart- for good reason, though.

Did you know that there are close to 50 precious and semi-precious elements that go into the phone? There were surprised gasps and giggles when we told ‘Haan, aapke phone mein sona hain.’ We were just glad nobody wanted to pull apart the phone further to try and get their hands on the gold!

Analyzing the parts of a cell phone in the E-Base. (Image: Jash Koradia)

Analyzing the parts of a cell phone in the E-Base. (Image: Jash Koradia)

So, why in our right minds are we taking apart phones at the E-Base? To understand just how much goes into a simple phone. 50 elements means 50 different mines to extract these precious life giving components of this phone. Moving on to another question- how often do we change our phones? Our research says at an average of two years. Now, here is an even more important question- How long can a phone last? Well, if we took care of it, definitely more than two years!

Looking for Congo on the map to know where elements of their cell phones come from. In this case, Tantalum comes from mines in Congo. (Image: Jash Koradia)

Looking for Congo on the map to know where elements of their cell phones come from. In this case, Tantalum comes from mines in Congo.(Image: Jash Koradia)

The truth of the matter is that as consumers we have a responsibility to understand the social and environmental cost of our choices. Forests are hacked to make way for mining of precious metals for phones that get replaced when they still have life in them. Instead of eating a fruit available in our backyards, we prefer to eat a packet of biscuits that travelled a few thousand kilometres to reach a supermarket near us. Sadly, in the end which is not even the real end of the product’s life, it invariably ends up in a landfill or worse, in a dump.

Our waste installation at the Pench Tiger Reserve made by the students to send out a message to tourists and other visitors.This is something we need to consider as  consumers- the waste we generate when we consume irresponsibly.

Our waste installation at the Pench Tiger Reserve made by the students to send out a message to tourists and other visitors.This is something we need to consider as consumers- the waste we generate when we consume irresponsibly.

In a globalized world, we must understand the importance of going local. Our wants as a privileged consumer have consequences for the less privileged producers who have to pay the social cost by sacrificing their environment or job for our cell phone or LCD TV. Our choices impact more than just ourselves and this is enough to make an argument for the responsibility of a consumer towards the world.

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