Mumbai: It was a funeral procession alright but the mourners were quite a happy bunch. No tears or glorious obituaries just a sigh of relief that a bane of existence was put to rest, and hopefully for good. The residents of densely populated Thakur village in Mumbai’s suburb of Kandivali performed last rites and organized an official funeral for plastic items, coinciding with June 23, the day the Maharashtra plastic ban came into effect. The ‘Antim Yatra’ or Final Journey, as it was called, was a collection drive for single use plastic items and was aimed at getting residents to give up these banned items for good.
But for this locality the fight against plastic started as a social cause in 2017. Back then the objective was to beautify the locality which has now culminated into a full-fledged battle against plastic. Disturbed by the rampant use of plastic items and its harmful effects, a few like-minded people from Kandivali came together and formed a group named ‘Soch Sayani’ (Think Clever) to make people aware about plastic pollution. As the volunteers from the group were carrying out their regular awareness drives in the area, the state government’s notification to ban plastic items came along on March 23.
With an aim to be an active participant in the state-wide plastic ban and make their contribution count, the group decided to collect all the banned plastic items from the households and submit them to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) making their work also easy.
A three-month buffer time was given to all the citizens to get rid of their plastic waste. People were aware of the plastic ban but were unwilling to take any concrete steps. The plastic collection drive was organised with an aim to drive out plastic from Thakur village without the people having to make much effort, says Hema Rao, an active volunteer of the group.
There are about 40 societies in Thakur village of which 26 took part in the procession. A poster of the event mentioning the venue, date and purpose was circulated in all the societies and WhatsApp groups. 26 POCs or Point of Contacts were introduced, one in each society.
All an individual had to do was to submit all the plastic – bags, spoons, forks, cups, thermocol, etc. at the collection point in his/her respective society. Two weeks’ time was given to the residents. The response from the people was amazing, adds Ms Rao.
Looking at the group’s enthusiasm and dedication towards beating plastic pollution, the BMC came forward and offered their trucks to collect all the discarded plastic. Four trucks were provided by the BMC on June 23.
On the D-day, despite the heavy rains, around 50 volunteers started the procession in the afternoon. To make the co-ordination smooth, live locations via Google Maps were sent to the all the 26 buildings.
“A fixed route map was provided to all the societies. They tracked the route of the trucks and submitted their plastic accordingly,” says Latesh Shetty, who resides in Evershine Millennium Paradise, Phase I.
Within an hour of starting the drive, one truck became full. By evening all the trucks were full and a few societies were still to be covered. A private truck was hired by the residents themselves ensuring that the drive doesn’t fail.
Describing the ‘Antim Yatra’ or ‘Final Procession’ as one of satisfaction and joy, Mr Shetty further adds,
We blame the authorities always, but we are also equally responsible for the plastic menace. This drive was a team effort. Many of the societies even arranged for snacks and tea for us while we were on the rounds. A local bakery patted our backs with free pastries. This was really assuring and motivating.
The bunch of volunteers hope that this unique ‘Antim Yatra’ will generate more awareness among the people and eventually drive out more plastic from the society.
While a few volunteers had last year approached all the street hawkers and vegetable vendors in their colonies asking them to stop giving plastic bags to the customers, some volunteers approached the citizens to carry cloth bags when they go shopping.
For months, we carried out this exercise. In the evening some of us would just visit the market areas and talk to people. We received a positive response and today, almost 60 per cent of the people including residents and vendors have stopped using plastic bags, says Ms Rao.
On June 23, the ban was imposed on single-use plastic items like plastic bags, disposable plastic products – spoons, forks, cups, plates, glasses, bowls, and containers, disposable thermocol items and Plastic or thermocol decoration products. Anyone found in possession of the banned items in the state will be penalised and fines range from Rs 5000 to Rs 25,000 and there is possibility of jail term upto three months.