The COVID-19 pandemic has brought our lives to a standstill. While most of us fret about coping with the new normal of working from home, an environment enthusiast in Pune has a slightly different concern.
Vivek Gurav, the founder of Pune Ploggers, is worried about all the waste lying in public or tourist places across the city. The group’s weekly activity of plogging (picking trash while jogging) has come to a halt.
Not one to be dissuaded by the ongoing pandemic, the 24-year-old has found an innovative way to reuse discarded plastic items to make eco-bricks by stuffing plastic bottles with dry waste.
Along with his team of over 500 volunteers, the software engineer aims to make 25,000 such eco-bricks by the end of July. The bricks will be donated to NGOs to make planters, and slum dwellers for constructing roofs.
How? Simply by utilising the waste plastic in your home.
“A one-litre bottle can store up to a kilo of plastic items or any other non-biodegradable dry waste. It is a win-win solution as volunteers get to utilise their free time productively, engaging in an activity is pro-environment, and most importantly, provide shelter to slum dwellers at no cost,” Vivek tells The Better India.
Vivek moved to Pune six years ago for studies, and always looked for ways to curb the overall garbage generation. Coming from the small town of Jaisingpur, he was shocked to see the reckless dumping and littering habits in Pune.
So, as a student in 2015, he adopted a river. And as a working professional in 2019, he launched the plogging fad.
Under his river-cleaning project, 40 tonnes of plastic waste was prevented from polluting the city’s Indrayani river. Meanwhile, through plogging, his team of volunteers collected about 70 tonnes of dry waste in eight months.
The collected waste is sent to local recycling units and Self-Help Groups who use it to make jewellery and furniture.
Last year, Vivek’s tremendous efforts were even mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his monthly radio show, Mann ki Baat.
Using A Trend to Make Garbage Collection Look Good
A few months into the river cleaning stint, several volunteers started to lose interest.
“It became a monotonous activity, and some people were even discouraged when the waste reappeared every weekend, despite the regular cleanup drives. We had to discontinue the river cleaning, and I lost touch with all my volunteers,” says Vivek.
However, a few months later, Vivek stumbled upon plogging, a concept that originated in Sweden. The idea behind plogging is to pick up trash while jogging or running so that the environment and the plogger are fit.
Banking on the viral trend, Vivek left his house around 6 a.m. with a plastic bag. Not concerned about what people would think, he started picking trash while jogging. This activity intrigued a few senior citizens on the second day.
“To draw the attention of the morning walkers, I would come in their way and pick up the trash. It worked, as the senior citizens joined me after learning about the idea,” he says.
Next, he invited his colleagues to try a new fitness regime for a day. He recorded the activity and posted it on his social media accounts. To make it look convincing, he mentioned the calories burnt and the volume of waste collected in the photo caption.
“Two hours on the treadmill is equal to 30 minutes of plogging. You can burn 288 calories in 30 minutes through plogging, as against 235 in jogging. Bend, squat, pick, and run your way to fitness,” he wrote on his timeline.
The post worked, and soon, he officially launched Pune Ploggers. Today, his team comprises 500 members from various strata of society, from students and working professionals to business people, teachers, and senior citizens.
“I found plogging to be a unique concept of collecting waste. I joined Vivek six months ago, and since then, I have attended every plogging drive. Going to the gym or jogging needs serious motivation, but by plogging, I am making a difference in society. I realised the gravity of littering only when I started picking trash on weekends. Now every time, I want to throw something, I immediately look for a bin,” Amal, one of the volunteers, tells The Better India.
Recycling & Upcycling Is The Star
Every weekend, the volunteers pick a public place, like a railway station or a famous tourist place. They meet around 6 a.m. and plog for two hours. Vivek has funded the masks, gloves, and sticks.
In the last eight months, they have conducted nearly 100 plogging drives in Baner Hills, Dighi Hills, stretches of river Mutha, Pune railway station, and Sinhagadh Fort.
For Vivek, plogging is not limited to waste collection. Once all volunteers deposit the waste at a pre-decided collection point, the core members spend 1-2 hours on segregation.
“The waste collected is sorted into categories like single and multi-layer plastic, glass, wood, sanitary waste, e-waste etc. We have tied up with two recycling units who come to the spot to take the dry waste. Non-recyclable waste is given to the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). Apart from this, we also promote upcycling of waste,” says Vivek.
For example, waste beer bottles are given to Sarathi, a city-based Self-Help Group (SHG).
“Depending on the shape and size of the beer bottle, we decide the design and the ways to decorate it. Since we have been doing it for quite some time now, it takes us half an hour to change the face of the bottle. All upcycled bottles are priced between Rs 80-250,” Sakshi, a Sarathi member, tells NDTV. Sarathi has upcycled 6,000 beer bottles into planters and other decorative items.
Other items like plastic bottles are upcycled into wind chimes, jewellery, pen stands, etc.
Impressed by the determination and devotion of Pune Ploggers, the PMC had organised a mega plogathon last December. It saw a participation of more than one lakh citizens, who collected 30 tonnes of dry waste from the streets.
“Pune ploggers have done a commendable job near the Mutha riverbank. While PMC cleans the roadside regularly, we do not have enough workforce to clean the entire stretch. These kids have made our work easier and the city cleaner with their efforts,” Ravindra Bendre, Sanitary Inspector, PMC, tells The Better India.
Collective Efforts Triumph
Vivek shares how uncivilised behaviours from spectators demotivates the volunteers. In November 2019, while the ploggers were cleaning a stretch of road, a group of people threw garbage on them from the over-bridge.
Despite these incidents, they remain undeterred. “Garbage reappears every weekend despite the regular cleaning, but that is not going to stop us. It is only because of the collective efforts that we have reached a stage where we can proudly boast of an increase in bird population near the Mutha river. I credit my foot soldiers who turn up every weekend,” says Vivek.
Pune Ploggers have done excellent work in the last eight months, and even though the lockdown has disrupted lives, they are still consistently working towards their goal of a cleaner city.
To know more about Pune Ploggers and their activities, follow them on their Facebook page.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)