Time to reTHink How Much Waste We Create


This article appeared in the Tribune Star March 6, 2016 A new environmental organization has bloomed in Terre Haute: reTHink is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers education and support to local businesses, organizations and individuals with the goal to reduce the amount of trash hauled to the landfill.

The organization is the brainchild of Shikha Bhattacharyya. “We don’t have mandatory recycling in Terre Haute. A lot of places do not recycle. There is a lot of food waste. There is no composting facility in town. Overall the amount of trash that we generate is huge, and we want to reduce that,” Bhattacharyya said.

Good organizations come and go here in the Wabash Valley, but this one wants you to reTHink how much you waste. Shikha has learned to work with passionate, hardworking individuals to get the job done. “I will not give this up if I keep having support. It cannot be one person’s job to make Terre Haute greener or more sustainable. If I keep getting help, which I have had tremendous amount of support already from Indiana State University, Downtown Terre Haute and the Vigo County Public Library. The more support we get, the more sustainable we will be,” Bhattacharyya said.

Green business rating system

reTHink is in the process of designing the specifications to have a sustainable business rating system. They will start by educating business about their impact on the environment and their health, then follow up by providing them with the necessary tools/options to make a change. “We are working with the ISU Scott School of Business students to put together a cost-benefit analysis. We want to show businesses what benefit it will be to them if they switched practices. We are doing five- and ten-year analysis of the cost benefit to them. We are also studying the supply chain of Styrofoam, plastic and biodegradables. Then we will tell them, these are the sources, costs and options you have,” Bhattacharyya said.

After reTHink provides a business with the proper tools and is allowed to do a sustainable assessment of a company, the organization will help promote the company’s success through an advertising campaign.

The organization plans to start with food businesses that generate a lot of trash on a daily basis. “For example, Indiana State University has 14,000 students. Every student on a daily basis eats out. If restaurants are using Styrofoam, plastic folks, knives, not recycling or composting, there is a lot of waste. If we can take care of it properly, we can compost, recycle and have very little to send to the landfill,” Bhattacharyya said.

Food/yard waste composting

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that one-third of food produced for human consumption worldwide is annually lost or wasted along the chain that stretches from farms to processing plants, marketplaces, retailers, food-service operations, and our collective kitchens. This amounts to 2.8 trillion pounds, enough to feed three billion people. In the United States, more than 30 percent of our food, valued at $162 billion annually, is not eaten.

Shikha and her family recently purchased four acres of land in rural northeastern Terre Haute. They have leased some of their land, at no charge, to reTHink to use as an educational site. On a small scale, reTHink has started collecting yard waste and food scraps to compost and plans to purchase permanent land and a facility to collect yard waste and food scraps. In the meantime, “If someone has food/yard waste, we will pick it up with our limited volunteer base,” Bhattacharyya said.

reTHink for your kids

We have created a problem that our children will be forced to solve. Since ‘we’ created the problem, ‘we’ need to be a part of the solution. Already there are areas the size of large islands in the ocean filled with trash. States are running out of landfill space and are shipping their trash into other states, like Indiana. “A lot of it doesn’t even stay in the landfill. If you look at the pictures, there is trash in seas. Oceans are full of plastic. Fish are eating that plastic. Animals get killed by plastic. It is not just the landfill where we have trash. Trash is everywhere,” Bhattacharyya said.

Not enough people are taking care of the earth. This is the only place we have to live. Earth is the only planet we can live on. “I don’t want to leave my mess behind. It just makes me upset that I am going to leave this place not so good for my kids. I worry about my kids. We all worry about our children,” Bhattacharyya said.

Help reTHink

reTHink has already received an endorsement for their series of events planned in 2016 by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. Art from Waste is their first sub-project in the Legacy Project series. On April 10, the ‘Art from Waste’ artwork will be on display in the Vigo County Public Library. Shikha says all participants will receive a Sustainability Champion T-shirt and are invited to a reception from 2 to 4 p.m. At that time, all entries on display must be picked up between 4 and 5 p.m. All award winners will be invited with their families to the award ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday, April 22 at Federal Hall on the campus of ISU. All entries are due by March 25 and must be dropped off at the VCPL’s Youth Services Department at Seventh and Poplar streets.

Other events reTHink will plan in 2016 include, but are not limited to gardening projects, a green Halloween party followed by an eco-friendly Christmas party. For more information about reTHink, call 812-645-0962, email bethechange@wabashrethinks.com or visit their Facebook page atfacebook.com/wabashrethinks.

-by Jane Santucci

Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a volunteer with TREES Inc. and Oubache Land Conservancy. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her atJaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.