“Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of waste that has been produced, 6.3 billion metric tons is plastic waste. Of that, only 9% has been recycled. The vast majority, 79% is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in natural environment as litter.” – Great Britain’s Royal Statistical Society.
I recall a conversation with Rahul Nainwal (Founder of India Fellow), at a cafe here in Dehradun where I was telling him about “Prithvi”, a plastic waste recycling program, of which, I am a part at my host organization Waste Warriors. After listening about the program, he gave an excellent idea of channelizing plastic waste from schools, and at the same time, giving them a chance to become social entrepreneurs.
He suggested to set up something called Plastic Banks where students will drop the waste plastic and will be benefited with some kind of financial return.
I went back to office the next day pondering about this, with the cafe’s bill which on its back read, “A program with students for social entrepreneurship”. It was lying on my desk next to my laptop for a couple of days before it made its way behind my mobile cover until I finally made a flow chart in my sketch book, with a header Plastic Gullak and went with it to my Project manager, Mithinga. We discussed this over tea and she gave me a go ahead, asked to write a proposal, including the objectives, strategies, budget and take it to Avinash. Even though it was approved, I was asked questions that got me thinking.
With high energy and motivation coupled with guidance I received, I started using my architectural tools, thinking about how the Gullak will look like, talking and meeting with welders, working on the cost of it, breaking down the tasks, setting up deadlines, drafting letters for principals, finalizing schools and so on. First few visits, all of which were a ‘Yes’ encouraged me to a different level. We decided to run a pilot in 3 schools, to observe the program and its impact. Finally, after all the back and forth with the welder, Kamlesh*, the first gullak was ready to be installed in the first school.
This initiative aims to not only raise awareness on plastic waste but also to channelize recyclable plastic from schools to our plastic segregation facility. At the same time, it empowers students with social entrepreneurial skills. As the name suggests, the concept behind Plastic Gullak is to initiate the act of saving. Here, instead of money, students would save plastic and collect it in the gullak. We want children to see plastic not as waste, but as a resource.
Kamlesh*, followed his father’s profession, who has been in the same business for long. It left me amazed to see how scared he was with the word GST. He was so reluctant to even give us a kachcha bill, as his name would appear somewhere. Even after trying hard and long, we couldn’t convince them to get a stamp or a bill book made. This was disheartening. I felt disabled because of the inability to educate someone.
A few weeks later, I along with Ankita, our Education Manager at Waste Warriors went to Gyananda School and gave a presentation to their Eco-Club, which has basically all the students. It was my first presentation in front of so many students and teachers but I felt confident like never before. Having people like Ankita, Mithinga and Naveen Ji as managers is a blessing one can have. It is overwhelming to see them put you in front during times of appreciation and standing right beside you in times of despair or mismanagement.
The second installation on 13th August, was at Purukal Youth Development Society (PYDS) which has a School and Purukal Stree Shakti, a non-profit SHG model. There were parallel awareness programs done by our team with students and women. I was interacting with 600 students now. After the awareness program was over, even before I could have water and return to the activity center, the whole room transformed itself from a sitting place for 600 students to 40 kids practicing for the upcoming Independence Day event. The first performance was a Garhwali folk dance, followed by Indian classical and contemporary dance.
Finally, it was the day for the third school: Bajaj Institute of Learning for Deaf Children. The moment you enter that school, it feels like you’re in an old house with people floating, smiles being exchanged and a sense of gratitude. While I was asking questions, so many hands and fingers moved in excitement. Auditory perceptions may be used less but with the help of other senses, it didn’t feel silent. To interact with young minds means opening new doors to learning about ourselves. Students had tons of questions about different kinds of waste, from hair to clothes to shoes and so on. It is amazing to witness the energy at which their minds work.
We are glad to have some of these minds involved in making the Waste Warriors Club in each school, and then guiding as well as empowering them with different tools that they can use to raise awareness amongst their peers to improve the amount of plastic being collected in their school. Once the Gullak is full, it will then be collected by us and in return, we will donate Rs. 8 per kg to the Waste Warriors Club for the plastic they collect. The students will then use this money for a social cause, under the supervision of school administration. With the hope to bring about behavioral change, and reducing the amount of plastic that reaches landfills, here we stand with programs like Plastic Gullak and many more.
*Name changed to protect identity