If you take a stroll at any time of the day on a street in India, chances are you will find at least one used plastic bottle lying around. For Shivanand Hongal, a professor in the College of Horticulture, Sirsi in Karnataka, this was an everyday scene.
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Being a nature lover, he was bothered by the indiscriminate littering and as a responsible citizen, he believed that all he could do was pick up discarded bottles and put them in the nearest bin.
This was until he visited Israel for a conference on Agriculture Sciences in January 2018.
Israel is the second-highest user of disposable plastic plates and utensils, and only half of their plastic generated gets recycled. However, the country is now implementing steps to cut down on plastic.
The efforts were quite evident.
Every year the hundreds of water bottles used for college programmes were dumped in the campus. When I visited Israel, I saw a regular farmer collect waste plastic bottles and upcycle them to grow ornamental plants in them. It was a brilliant, affordable and eco-friendly idea,” Hongal tells The Better India
His fascination for the plant bottles soon came true in his own college when he expressed the idea to the college management.
“Fortunately, the use of plastic is frowned upon by the teaching staff anyway. When we told the students about the idea, many of them were excited to replicate the DIY method.”
In May this year, students started collecting plastic bottles from the campus and their neighbourhood. A total of 700 non-biodegradable bottles were collected.
As an experiment, only a few bottles were cut horizontally and vertically by the students and Hongal.
“We watched a lot of YouTube videos to ensure the minimum glitches. While some bottles could not take the weight of the soil, some did not get a proper cut. We conducted a lot of trials and errors before finding the right technique,” the says the professor.
The bottles cut sideways would be used for leafy vegetables like coriander, neem, spinach, and one with a vertical cut would have plants like onion, garlic, radish, among others.
The students were divided into groups, and each team was given a specific location to hang the upcycled bottles.
Soil was replaced with coco peat as it is lighter and some amount of organic fertilizer was added to make the plants nutritious. As these seeds were planted on the onset of monsoon, the yield was quite excellent.
It took the students just two days to complete the upcycling and gardening process.
The success and satisfaction derived from this project even motivated the college to go beyond bottles and upcycle as many non-biodegradable waste as possible.
The students and teachers are now reusing plastic bags, waste cement bags, wooden planks, tin cans and buckets to grow fruits and a variety of vegetables like cucurbits, legumes, leafy vegetables, root vegetables and so on.
What Exactly Is Upcycling And Why You Should Do It
Upcycling is the process of repurposing old and discarded items into new products that have a better quality and an environmental value.
“Usually, most of the goods that are dumped have a lot of life left in them. By upcycling such material, they don’t end up in landfills. At the same time, by repurposing material instead of buying new products, we are also ensuring that virgin resources that are already scarce are not over consumed,” Shailaja Rangaraan, the co-founder of Rimagined tells The Better India.
Rimagined is a social enterprise that upcycles waste into home décor products and furniture items.
Look around again and instead of litter, try to see the waste as something that can be given a new lease of life through upcycling. Read more about how to upcycle here.
All the images have been sourced from Shivanand Hongal.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)