This article was originally published by Earth Day Network – India in its eBook ‘Pathways to Green India: Innovative Ideas From Students, Volume 1‘.
A Music Room of Tetra Paks
Aditya Bali is an alumnus of St Mary’s School, New Delhi. He fondly remembered his school days, in particular, the music room and the happy hours he spent there. He recalled how one would be immersed in playing the scales on an instrument or trying out one’s vocals when there would be that invariable knock on the door and a teacher would say “Please lower the tone, my students are getting disturbed,” or “Sssh, exams are going on. Practise at another time.”
“This was frustrating. One had to constantly tiptoe one’s talent around others getting disturbed. No full-throated renditions, as my schoolmates and I saw divas present and so wanted to emulate, nor those instrumental dynamics where decibels went from soft to loud and even louder,” Aditya said.
On a visit to his alma mater, Aditya was eagerly looking forward to a changed scenario. Sadly, things were just the same. Full volume practice sessions in the music room were still a no-no. “Soundproofing is just too expensive,” the administration explained. Music lessons continued to have the caveat “No one else should get disturbed.”
Something had to be done. Aditya was eager to find a solution that could contain sound within the music room and at the same time be good for the community, the environment, and the world. Possible?
It amazingly was! After much research, Aditya came up with an innovative but simple plan. He would add a soundproof layer to the walls of the music room and (hold your breath) this was to be constructed entirely out of trash-Tetra Paks discarded after their contents had been enjoyed. His studies confirmed that using these could effectively minimize the acoustics at a very low cost. No raw material was to be purchased. Just throw-outs collected.
The environment would also benefit as reusing discarded items would reduce the already heavy burden on landfills.
Aditya says the collection and mobilization of resources were the main challenges he faced. Hence, the first thing he did was to draw in a large number of student volunteers to organize drives to collect discarded Tetra Paks. Tetra Pak vendors and St Mary’s School authorities also came forward and the number swelled to around 80 people. “The NGO Swechha also lent major support,” Aditya said.
In the first phase, 7,500 Tetra Paks were collected from five schools. These were then thoroughly washed. The water used in the cleaning process had its pH balance tested and neutralized and then reused to water the school lawns, thus not wasting it. 6,750 of the packs collected were found to be usable.
These formed the first ‘bricks’ in the innovative construction. Each Tetra Pak was filled with a combination of sawdust and Neem (Azadirachta indica) leaves. Aditya had carefully chosen these materials after much consideration. The innate cellulosic quality of sawdust makes it an effective natural sound absorber. Its maximum air gaps provide a synergistic effect that isolates sound. Sawdust is also readily available where cutting, grinding, and drilling of wood takes place.
Aditya said that packing it into the Tetra Pak ‘bricks’ had another big benefit: it helped reduce respiratory diseases and other severe health hazards that result from sawdust freely flying around. Including Neem leaves in the ‘bricks’ assured good prevention against termite infestation, as the leaves are traditionally recognized as natural insecticides.
Finally, the finished Tetra Paks were fixed onto the walls and the roof of the music room. To ensure that soundproofing was optimized, an irregular surface was created on the walls by lining them with an additional layer of empty egg cartons. Lining the windows and the floor with old blankets further blocked out the sound.
It was now time to test if the newly fabricated music room was indeed soundproof. Using the software Reaper Daw, there was confirmation that the noise level was around 17% lower outside the room as compared to inside. Guitars, drums, and bass could now be played with great amplification.
The oft-heard refrain “Please, you are disturbing us,” was no longer heard and the students now had a music room where they could practice to their hearts’ content.
Why wouldn’t the results be amazing? After all, with the meticulous planning and concerted efforts, success was assured. Aditya Bali was recognized for his ‘Tetra Traps Timbre-Constructive Reuse of Tetra Paks’ project with an ‘Influence Fellowship’ from Swechha.
‘The International Award for Young People,’ constituted by the Duke of Edinburgh and British Council, followed, as did several others.
Aditya’s story confirms that solutions to problems don’t always need pots of money. A brilliant idea works. He is pleased that St Mary’s now has a soundproof music room and proud that the project is benefitting the environment as trash finds a valuable use.
“I hope that others will also be inspired by believing, as I do, that our environment is the cradle of life and one should work towards protecting it,” Aditya said.
Aditya is now working to develop a full-scale entrepreneurship venture that could expand the soundproofing technique he has developed for use in factories, conference rooms, and performing arts spaces.