Kannur a district in Kerala scripted its place in the history of ‘Go Green’ campaigns. The entire district was declared free of plastic disposables and carry bags at the start of April thanks to the 5 months of campaign in order to achieve the status of ‘Plastic Free Zone.’ More than 2 lakh people of the district have chosen to live a life without plastics. Today, the district has successfully implemented two laws in order to discourage the use of plastic – First, there is a ban on the use of plastic carry bags, second, there is a ban on the usage of plastic disposable cutlery especially at public functions and weddings.
Enforcement, The Biggest Problem In India: How Kannur Is Changing This Reality
Currently, cities and states including Delhi, Mumbai, Karwar, Tirumala, Vasco, Rajasthan, Kerala, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh to name a few, have ban on plastic bags in place but, still, the production and usage of plastic persists in large amounts and India continues to be the top four producers of plastic waste in the world. One of the major reasons behind this failure is the enforcement. However, Kannur district is trying to change this grim reality. Recently, approximately 1.2 tonnes of plastic waste was seized by the Kannur Municipal Corporation.
From Plastic Waste To Plastic Free: The Journey of Kannur’s District
Last year on November 1, while celebrating the Kerala day, district administration and district panchayats officers along with other local bodies came out with a target of phasing out plastic carry-bags and disposable plastic cutlery and make Kannur a plastic free district so as it can set an example for other states/cities.
Initially our motive was to spread awareness about the ill-effects of using plastics and initiate alternatives of plastics among people, explains the District Collector of Kannur District, Mir Mohammed Ali.
Under a joint initiative of Haritha Keralam, district administration and district panchayats, set the target of making the district plastic free zone by April 2, 2015 – in a span of 5 months.
We organised various activities within the district in order to promote the message of – ‘Say No To Plastics.’ First aim was to make the supermarket ‘go green.’ We convinced 60-odd shopkeepers to be the part of the Green Kerala drive and ditch plastic carry bags completely and instead opt for cloth bags. This is a common belief that making super markets quit plastic bags is an unsuccessful task; we wanted to challenge this reality and show people that super markets too can move towards greener and cleaner India, added Mir Mohammed Ali as he explains how the district achieved the next to impossible target.
By January only there was a reduction of 40 lakh plastic carry bags in Kannur District, thanks to all the shopkeepers who abandoned the use of plastic bags.
The idea was to start a change in consumer’s buying practices since cloth bags are costly. After the first purchase only there was a change in the buying behavior among people. Nobody wanted to spend extra amount buying the cloth bag, they started bringing their old bag along with them from the next time. Our motive was just that, said Mir Mohammed Ali.
From supermarkets to hotels and restaurants, next the district started a scheme – bring your own tiffin box for takeaways and get extra 10 percent discount on your food bill.
All these campaigns and schemes were planned keeping in mind the simple ideology – people should come forward and take responsibility for the waste they create, added Mr Ali.
Apart from supermarkets and hotels, students were also included to embrace the message and intent of the Green Kerala campaign. The district started bulk collection practice of plastic waste from 600 schools where children were asked to bring waste from their home to the schools. Explaining the concept, Mr Ali added,
We wanted children to learn the importance of waste segregation from an early stage therefore we conceptulised this sub-campaign. Also, it was easy to collect plastic waste that ways instead of going to individual houses.
The district is also known for lending its support to the state government’s Green Protocol movement in which couples are asked to have a green wedding, a wedding free from plastic waste.
We are giving certificate of appreciation to the couple who are having green weddings. One of our municipalities is also giving gold coins to the couples who organises their wedding as per the green protocol. All this is just to encourage people to live a green and waste free life, added Mr Ali.
Looking For Alternatives To Plastics
One of the reasons why banning is ineffective in most places is because there are no alternatives to plastic. However, Kannur district has addressed that very issue. Women Self Help Groups were engaged to make cotton cloth bags from old clothes to make it as easily available and cost effective as plastic.
Till March 2017, around 80,000 bags have been sold by these women in the district.
What Others States Can Learn From Kannur?
India generates around 56 lakh tonnes of plastic waste annually and the way it is being tackled is also making waste management a Herculean task for the country. The fact is that our planet cannot digest plastic because it takes around 500 to 1000 years for plastic to completely degrade due to the presence of complex polymers. That means till now whatever bit of plastic has ever been manufactured or used by us can be found in some form or the other on the planet.
So to take the cue from Kannur, learnings from India’s first plastic free district zone needs to be replicated. District Kannur has set an example for everyone out there that through effective communication and proper implementation plan ditching plastic is possible.