Enhancing female monastics’ roles in zero waste management

(A case of Songdhammakalyani monastery)



Background to zero waste management at Songdhammakalyani monastery : 

Inspired by a television program called, “A beautiful world by our hands,”Ven.Dhammapaṇītā told her story on waste management. To help save the world based on loving kindness, at that timeshe was a maeji (white robe) residing at a temple in NakhonSwarn province. At the temple, there were so many used plastic bags to throw away every day. She started to collect the bags, washed them and sold them at a half baht/kg. When she moved inSongdhammakalayanimonastery on December 25, 2008, she found thatVen. Dhammanandā, Songdhammakalyani monastery’s abbess, had donewaste sorting on her own before she moved in. They discussed how the temple waste could be managed in a better way.She volunteered to do the job. Since then she has developed her knowledge and skills, and the systems of zero waste management in strong support of Ven. Dhammanandā. Both of them have realized that waste is not a serious problem of temples only, but everywhere. It is everyone’s responsibility. How could a temple create people’s awarenessof waste generation and management?

Vision on zero waste management at Songdhammakalyani Monastery   :            

Ven.Dhammananā is the very first female monastic in Thailand who has foreseen the significance of nature conservation through Buddhist lens based on loving kindness to the nature. It was clearly written in her book entitled “Buddhism and Nature Conservation” first published in 1998, two decades ago. Her interest in nature conservation has focused on environmental concerns, particularly zero waste management. When she took her higher ordination, she realized that female monastics had a significance role to play in temple waste management. As a monastery with limited income, she has placed emphasis on low-cost high-performance technologies for zero waste management since then.

Current zero waste management practice with low-cost high- performance technologies :

Zero waste management in Buddhism has been clearly stressed since the Buddha’s time. At Songdhammakalyani Monastery, we not only put the idea into our daily living practice, butwe also extend it to our laypeople and the nearby community. They are encouraged to make merit by offering their waste while we go for alms round, or bringing their waste to our temple.

Sources of waste : 

Most of the waste produced in our temple comes from kitchen waste and food scraps, tree trunks and branches, dry leaves and grasses. Some of recycled waste comes from our disrobed novices and laypeople. They bring their recycled waste to our temple to make merit.

To manage the waste, we need to know types of waste, what to do with it, and where it goes. All these were presented in Table 1

Table 1Types of waste, what to do and where to go

Material Item What to do Where to go
Recycle Plastic Transparentplastic bottles Collect in a sack Sell to garbage collectors
Cloudy plastic bottles Collect in a sack Sell to garbage collectors
Soft plastic container e.g. water cup, coffee cup, food boxes Collect in a sack Sell to garbage collectors
Hard plastic container e.g. detergent bottles, bathroom cleaner bottles, hand-wash liquid soap bottles Collect in a sack Sell to garbage collectors
Clean plastic bags Collect and fold in a bunch Sell to garbage collectors
Dirty plastic bags Wash and dry, then fold in a bunch Sell to garbage collectors
Straws Collect in a plastic bag Sell to garbage collectors
Grass Bottle Collect in a sack Sell to garbage collectors
Styrofoam Boxes/


Collect in a sack Municipality recycling bin
Coffee cups Collect in a sack Municipality recycling bin
Paper White paper Collect in a sack Sell
Color paper Collect in a sack Sell
Old calendars Collect in a box Give away for the blind
Tissue papers Collect in a plastic bag Municipality garbage bin
Instant coffee mix sachets/

Instant drinking chocolate mix sachets/

Tea sachets/

Snack packs/

Tea bags

Collect & tie in a bunch Municipality garbage bin


Flatten & tie in a bunch Sell
Milk boxes/

Juice boxes

Wash and dry Give away to a foundation to produce desks and chairs for pupils in remote area
Can Tin cans

e.g. condensed milk cans, food cans

Wash& collect in a sack Sell
Aluminum cans

e.g. soft drink cans

Rinse & collect in a sack Give away to a hospital for producing artificial legs
Hazardous waste Car batteries

Motorbike batteries

Light bulbs Collect in a plastic bag Municipality recycling bin
Dry cells Collect in a plastic bag Municipality recycling bin
Chemical spray


Color spray bottles

Collect in a sack Municipality recycling bin
Wet waste Kitchen waste Vegetables Collect in a garbage bucket Make compost
Fruit peels/

leftover fruits/

lemon peels

Collect in a garbage bucket Make bio-extract/

Make compost

Food scarps Collect in a garbage Make compost
Dry waste Trees & grasses Dry leaves & grasses Sweep & collect Make compost
Branches/ Trunks Collect in a pile Give away to our laywoman for firewood


After waste sorting , we use used water from clothes washing to clean the dirty waste, so we do not invest in municipality water supply. We prepare 2 basins, one for a mixture of liquid soap with bio-extract to remove grease and dirtiness, another for clean water to remove the mixture. While the water from the first basin is poured into the drainage, the water from the second basins is used for watering grasses.

In the beginning,Ven.Dhammanandājust did waste sorting and collecting without selling as the volume of waste was not big enough for the garbage collector to come. In 2008 we started to sell our waste on quarterly basis. In 2008 and 2009, we earned for 700-800 baht quarterly. Our waste started to generate a small income, and our income increased steadily overtime. In the last two years (2017-2018), it generated income of 1,000 – 1,200 baht/month. Of course, income generation is not our main goal. Our main goal is to create the general public’s awareness of their daily waste generation and consciousness of littering. We try to educate them the knowledge and skills of zero waste management that applicable to their daily practice at homes.

It might be worth mentioning about serendipities of our low-cost high performance technologies. An example is Ven.Dhammapanītā told that she dag a big hole to grow galingale. Whileshe was digging the hole, she noticed that this was a garbage dump because she saw pieces of decomposed plastic bags. The galingale grew quickly and gave a good yield without applying fertilizer. She then started to dig a garbage hole, size of a cubic meter at the point she will grow fruit trees, or trees. She filled up the hole with kitchen waste day by day, and covered it with soil. After a few months, the kitchen waste became compost; she dag the hole again and grow a fruit tree, or tree. So there is no need to apply fertilizer and for labor work.

Another example is while she was sick in bed, a laywoman offered her pieces of pineapple, and she could not finish them. She left them on the plate and noticed that white mycelium was growing on the pineapple. She realized that this mycelium might decompose the pineapple. She tried putting sugar on the pineapple, the mycelium was growing quickly. She learned that this white mycelium can be a good decomposer for garbage. She then sought for the knowledge to make bio-extract from pineapple and lime peels. The bio-extract works well with our garbage dumps and bat and dormitory bathroom drainages. It is very easy to prepared she bought a bottle of concentrated effective microorganisms from the nearby monastery, put it in a bucket of fruit waste and lime peels, add 20 litters of water and 1 kilogram of sugar, stir them, then leave the mixture for 48 hours before it can be used.


Strategies for persuading our laypeople to put the idea into practice : 

In the beginning it is the phrase of our learning, when we review on our annual ceremonies, we do have 3 big ceremonies: two 9-day temporary novice ordinations in April and December and one rob offering ceremony in October or November. These are the times when huge piles of all sorts of waste were produced by our novices and their parents or relatives, particularly on the ordination day and the disrobing day. Our strategies are to educate their parents and relatives by providing different types of bins to let them learn to sort their waste into the proper bins by example. The items of waste were shown on top of the bins.

Before the novice ordination and while they were being trained, we arranged for each small group of novices to take turn to get their hands on waste sorting and let them reflect their lessons learned from, and benefits of, waste sorting.

            Creating awareness of one’s waste generation

To create awareness of zero waste management, it is crucial to learn how much waste one produces daily first. We simply asked each member of a group of 9 or so to record the waste one generated daily. We found that this was a very good strategy for creating awareness of waste production and zero waste management. The following are reflections from the latest batch of the novices (Table 2).

Table 2 Item and quantity of waste disposed daily

Novice no. Items and quantity disposed daily
1 7 pieces of tissue paper, 2 milk boxes, 2 water bottles, 1 snack pack
2 5 pieces of tissue paper, 1 food pack, 1 milk box, 1 dental floss, 1 piece of paper
3 10 pieces of tissue paper, 2 small water bottles, food scarps
4 8 pieces of tissues paper, 2 milk bottles, 2 water bottles, 1 snack pack, 1 banana peel
5 8 pieces of tissue paper, 2 milk bottles, 1 milk box, 1 snack pack, 2 banana peels
6 7 pieces of tissue paper, 1 milk bottle, 1 milk box, 1 water bottle, 1 spoon of food scarps.
7 3 pieces of tissue paper, 5 water bottles, 2 milk boxes, food scarps
8 3 clear water bottles, 3 cloudy water bottles, 3 milk boxes
9 1 small water bottle


            Lessons learned and benefits of waste sorting

            We asked each group to brainstorm and summarize what they learned from, and benefits of, waste sorting.The following was a summary of their lessons learned and the benefits of waste sorting as reported by the novices.

“We can see with our own eyes that volume of waste dramatically reduced. We know which types of waste can be sold or not. We have small income from selling waste. We must carefully think before we create waste, otherwise we will be tired when there are huge piles of waste. We sometimes think that some pieces of waste are useless, but it is always valuable for someone. Waste sorting makes us know everything is always valuable and useful. We are more aware before we pick something to use or pick something to eat. We know how to do waste sorting, and we learn to value each type of waste. Some types are for recycling, another for reusing, and the others for selling or composting. The rest are to throw away. We are more disciplinedand more mindful every time before littering because waste creates many problems (e.g., environment degradation, stressful feelings, bad smelling, and getting ourselves and the others into troubles). We learn that zero waste management can help environmental conservation and reduce global warming.”

Moreover, the novices also shared their other interesting ideas.

“We learn about solidarity, to be disciplined in team working, and we change our view on waste and become more appreciate for waste sorting.”

Scaling up the lessons learned from zero waste management to a community learning center : 

Started with waste sorting based on loving kindness to the nature, we are now scaling up from a small zero waste management unit to a community learning center for environmental concerns. We have initiated a project on “Ban RakDhamma” meaning Dhamma caring home early this year. We are building a 2-storey house, the first floor will be female monastics residence and the ground floor will be the community learning center for environmental concern, zero waste management in particular.

To be a successful center in the long run, we are well aware that several factors must be taken into account. Firstly, Hardware, we are planning for the layout of zero waste management systems on the ground floor that the line of waste processing must use minimal energy and time. Secondly, Software, the knowledge of zero waste management, we keep learning from other good practices on the websites and modified them to our conditions, as well as creating our own low-cost high-performance technologies. Thirdly, Peopleware, the most important factor, is the killer assumption of the project. At least a pair of willing female monastics keen on zero waste management is needed to lead the team in strong support of the abbess. The knowledge and skills accumulated overtime must be passed onto next generations.

Once the zero waste management systems are installed, the input which is the waste to be processed and the output which are varieties of the sorted waste to be managed are equally important.

Consequently, we must carefully plan for public relations on our project and let the general public make contributions in some kinds of ways. For the nearby community, we may produce leaflets and distribute to our laypeople while we go for alms round, and encourage them to do waste sorting and offer their sorted waste to our temple. Websites and facebook are powerful tools to let the general public know about our project. Word-of–mouth among our disrobed novice is another channel to obtain the waste.

Open house invitation on Sunday afternoon after lunch is another way to educate our laypeople coming to make offering. From our experiences, when they see our sorted waste, they just realize that they keep all sorts of waste at home and are not reluctant to bring their waste to our temple. Of course, the tactics behind this is they have to sort the waste at home before giving to our temples. A challenge is how we could make a difference. Creating new products from sorted waste to be examples for our laypeople instead of just selling it to the garbage collector requires innovative ideas.

This paper presents a case of female monastics’ roles in zero waste management, Songdhammakalyani monastery. It started with a small activity “waste sorting,” learning by doing, and accumulating knowledge of, and skills, for zero waste management overtime. It is now scaling up to be a community learning center for environmental concern in the near future.


Kabilsingh, C.,et al. (2010). Buddhism and Nature Conservation (2nded.). Bangkok: Thai Tibet Center.