At some point over the past few years, it is quite likely that you would have heard about the problems created by the ever increasing mounds of garbage in our neighbourhoods and/or the villages where our urban rubbish is being dumped. The harm to the environment, climate change, plastic cows, dead turtles, our health, contaminated water, flash floods …
Of course, with the launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission a year ago, we are constantly reminded about keeping our neighbourhoods and country clean. Apart from not littering our public spaces, anyone with common sense would directly relate this to what we throw out each day, from each of our homes – things that we could actually have done without, and which would need to go through the recycling process to save them from ending up in landfills or some unsuspecting creature’s stomach.
Identified as the chief culprit behind clogged drains during Mumbai’s heavy rains in July 2005, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Maharashtra Government have tried banning certain kinds of plastic, at various points in time, but success has been limited. The most recent effort by the BMC came into effect on 23rd February 2015, banning plastic carry bags of less than 50 microns. However, with several manufacturers of plastic bags located within Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra, thin plastic bags are widely available. Some shopkeepers give out thin plastic bags (kirana bags) without handles that they say are not “carry bags”. Being economical, thin bags are used indiscriminantly (despite the 50 micron plastic bag alternative), without remorse, and the BMC continues to find it difficult to implement the ban properly.
There are two ways of approaching this, both important – obliteration of the source (which is the perogative of the administration) and change of consumer mindset. When we people, who buy things, do not accept these thin plastic bags, they will slowly become redundant. Finally, any kind of disposable plastic/ paper should be discouraged, if we are to reduce the quantity of garbage that ends up leaving our homes.
For the last couple of years, a group of “Lokhandwala Ladies” from various apartments, has been trying hard to get the shopkeepers and vendors in the Lokhandwala Township of Kandivali East to stop using single-use/ disposable plastic bags. With the support of the local MLA Atul Bhatkalkar, Corporator Ajanta Yadav, BMC ward officials, NGOs Satsang Pariwar (Lokhandwala-based Trust) and Inseed (Mumbai chapter), the group is making available, several alternatives to the local people, to replace thin plastic bags. Carry bags made of non-woven material and newspaper bags are low cost solutions being offered, but ultimately the aim is to minimise the use of disposables. With this objective, the focus is moving to reusable cloth bags.
The group has been sourcing surplus cloth from export houses and getting tailors (mostly women looking for employment) to stitch simple cloth bags. Another source of cloth is donations from residents of the area – curtains, sofa covers, sheets, left over fabric, etc. – that are “upcycled” into cloth bags. While some of the tailors are from the area, others are located in villages near Jawhar (Palghar District), like Aliumal, Kelichapada, Chothyachiwadi, where the villagers are looking for work during the farming-off-season. All these bags are sold at rates of Rs 5/- to Rs 30/-. There are thoughts of replicating the “rent a bag” scheme that is used in some parts of Bangalore.
Fun fair at Lokhandwala Foundation School
On 25th October 2015, our neighbourhood school, Lokhandwala Foundation School had its annual fun fair, and the organisers and Principal Ms Aarti Desai kindly acceded to the Lokhandwala Ladies’ request for a stall to explain the effects of disposables and promote cloth bags. Apart from our cloth bags, we also stocked cloth/ canvas/ jute bags from EcoCorner and Inseed.
For changing the mindset, children are an important route and we hoped we would be able to create an impression on the young minds and consequently, their parents, amidst the festivity. We were not disappointed. Our strategically located stall-space was well patronised. The informative banners (designed by us/ downloaded from 2bin1bag – thanks to this Bangalore group) were hard to miss. Visitors to our stall received an attractive bookmark to remind them to #RefuseDisposables (bookmark downloaded from 2bin1bag and suitably modified). We are hopeful that many of the reusable bags we sold will replace the thin disposable bags in our township.
Here are some glimpses of the fun fair and our stall. Click image to view
Pics: different phone cameras of Lokhandwala Ladies