By Nicole Stevenson
Arvind Gupta is on a mission to turn trash into toys. According to the environmental protection agency, the average American throws out 4.34 pounds of trash every day. In a single year, America’s waste industry handles over 240 million tons of waste—a figure that excludes construction waste, which accounts for another 300 million tons. With issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility weighing on the public mind, some of the brightest minds are looking for ways to cut down on all that garbage. One of these thinkers is Arvind Gupta. He has a vision for all of this trash: he wants to turn it into educational toys for children.
Arvind Gupta’s Idea Turn Trash into Toys
According to Arvind Gupta, the idea began in the 70′s, with a plan to revitalize schools in small Indian villages. Although he had been trained as a Molecular Biologist, Anil Sadgopal gave up a lucrative future and returned home to put his studies to use in helping some of India’s poorest communities. He quickly turned into a leading proponent of education in India. Sagopal planned to “Live with them, love them; start with what they know, build from what they have.” To achieve this goal, he designed a science program for ordinary people, for everyone to enjoy.
It was there at these outdoor science events where a young Arvind Gupta had a realization about what he calls “people science,” a mixture of hard science and common sense. As Gupta points out, although there is no engineering college in their village, the people are familiar enough with geometry and trigonometry to build roofs that will not collapse. Armed with this knowledge, Arvind Gupta began traveling to schools to teach children more “people science.”
Arvind Gupta found working with children highly rewarding. “Every time I go to a school, I see a gleam in the eyes of the children,” he says, “I see hope. I see happiness in their faces. Children want to make things. Children want to do things.” In order to capture this natural curiosity, Gupta began making educational aids out of trash, including models of traditional Indian toys. He found that from these interactive and educational toys, Gupta could teach children everything from physics to geometry in a simple and intuitive way. Not only had he found an innovative use for common garbage, but Gupta was also imparting useful scientific knowledge to children. His educational toys fall under diverse categories such as “Math Magic,” “Tipping Toppling Toys,” “Electricity and Magnetism,” and “Newton Unplugged.”
One toy that demonstrates electromagnetism, for example, costs a total of five cents to make. It requires a short length of bicycle tube, two safety pins, and a rubber band, all of which can be found in the trash—yet the toy is capable of creating a magnetic current when the battery is inserted. Such a toy is capable of delighting children while teaching them about motors, mechanics, and electricity.
Arvind Gupta’s Vision
Arvind Gupta works under the understanding that “The best thing a child can do with a toy is to break it,” and his vision requires a hands-on approach. All of his toys teach the foundations of science, encouraging children to think of more complex concepts.
Yet all of his toys are extremely cheap, if not free. Arvind Gupta made 30,000 copies of his rubber toy demonstrating electromagnetism—at a cost of at most $1500. Armed with such a bevy of toys, Gupta travels to Indian schools, giving science lessons through playing with the kids. By taking advantage of children’s natural curiosity and love of learning, Arvind Gupta can teach them practical and applicable scientific lessons. The fact these lessons are eco-friendly, sustainable, and budget-friendly is only a wonderful bonus.