New Delhi: Every time we use a straw, a plastic bag, or cutlery, we don’t think twice before discarding it. We don’t think it can be a threat to the existence of our planet, it could be chocking and killing animals. It could be lack of awareness or plan indifference but it is costing us and will hurt us even more in future. This realization dawned on 32-year-old Osho Kalia the day he watched a short film ‘The Plastic Cow’. ‘The painful sight of 50 kgs of plastic being pulled out of that cow is still fresh in my memory,’ he recalls. And it changed the course of his life. He found a purpose and that was his crusade against plastic.
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The movie made me think – are our cows really dying because of eating plastic? I thought of exploring the cowsheds myself, and I began my research from my home in Gurugram. Soon, I figured that there is just one cowshed near my area. I went there, spoke to the owners and soon realised that every cow we see walking in front of us is full of plastic. They told me, every month they get two-three cows admitted in the hospitals because of plastic poison, explains Osho.
A few months later, Osho decided to quit his job at IBM and start working full time towards providing alternatives to plastic. He zeroed in giving alternatives to plastic bags as a first step, to curb the spiraling plastic mess. He thought of collaborating with the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram.
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During that time in Gurugram the ban on plastic bags came into place. But, I could still use and see it everywhere. That’s when I figured, I should do something that will make this ban effective. I spoke with the municipal commissioner and started working on the solutions.
Osho’s solution was to make cloth bags and make it available to shopkeepers and consumers in the area thereby educating them on why they should switch to this greener alternative. He also suggested that the civic body should get these cloth bags stitched by the 2200 prisoners of Gurugram.
The idea was to give greener alternatives to people so that they stop using plastic bags altogether. And what’s better than making a cloth bag – the materials are easily available and it is not rocket science to make one. On the other hand, the idea to involve prisoners came to me instantly when I was asked by the corporation how I plan to mass produce the alternatives.
Finally, ‘No to Polythene and yes to Cloth Bags’ campaign was started by setting up a cloth bag manufacturing unit inside Gurgaon Jail. The corporation installed 50 machines to facilitate the process of making cloth bags.
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I bought a local tailor for the first two days to give training to the prisoners on how to stitch a perfect cloth bag. And soon, they were on a roll.
“Few inmates even stitched 180 bags in mere 3 hours.”
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Osho got the cloth and fabrics to make the bags as a donation from various textiles companies. He adds,
“Most of the time, in the process of manufacturing fabric, there is often large amounts of surplus cloth that gets rejected or is of no use to the company. We wanted companies to come forward and donate this cloth rather than wasting it. And thankfully many came onboard.”
In a few months, around 2.5 lakh bags were made by the inmates.
Talking about the wages, Osho said,
“As there is a wage system in the jails, we were paying the inmates Rs 1 for making one bag and were contributing the other half (Rs 1) to the jail welfare fund.”
But sadly, the project in Gurugram jail got halted due to administrative changes.
That didn’t stop Osho. He decided to form his own organisation and continue educating people on why using plastic bags is harmful. Soon, Geeli Mitti Foundation came into existence with the aim to start multiple campaigns against the use of plastic across the country.
The first initiative that was started by the organisation was to convince people to opt for the greener alternatives to plastic bags.
I started going door-to-door, shop after shop to convince everyone to opt for the greener alternative. I explained to the shopkeepers how actually they were saving money by buying these cloth bags as they don’t have to give these bags for free to customers like they used to do for plastic bags. To consumers, I told they can actually use the one bag for years.
Though many shopkeepers and consumers today have joined his ‘No To Plastics’ campaign – but there is still a lot to be done.
Convincing people to shift to cloth bags and not use plastic bags is not very easy. Over a period, I have realised how people are accustomed to use these.
Talking about the prices, Osho said that currently his organisation is selling the cloth bags for Rs 10 and it goes up to Rs 18 and these cloth bags are being supplied to six states in India.
I want to appeal to the people to come forward and stop using the ‘life-taker’ – plastic bags. We all need to start the cloth revolution, it is then that we all can make a difference. I also urge all the shopkeepers out there – understand that using a cloth bag is the need of the hour. Come onboard and let’s make plastic-free country a reality.