Two students from Netherlands came to India and saw the abysmal state of plastic waste and littering. They stayed, and decided they would raise awareness against it, starting with a mural in Delhi.
If you happen to walk through Hauz Khas Village in Delhi, you might run into a mesmerising blue-green mural with a face that has its eyes closed, little pink plastic bags all around it. You’ll also realise, if you happen to notice it, that there’s lesser trash lying around. All those plastic bags, cans, rotting food, and whatever else that makes up the usual scene of polluted streets, have vanished.
There’s a bright green trash can that catches the eye, much like the mural.
When Elise Littooij and Wesley van Manen came from the Netherlands to Delhi in March 2015 for a student exchange program, they were stumped. The students from the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam keenly observed the littering problem that plagues most of India’s metro cities.
Instead of walking away disgusted, they decided to do something about it.
“One of the biggest environmental problems India is facing is the menace of plastic waste,” said Manen. “In fact, according to statistics, 60 cities in India generate 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste per day. Isn’t that alarming? So we asked ourselves, how can we respond to this with a creative intervention?”
The duo chose to finish their graduation project in Delhi. They started out by combining their passion for art and their will to raise awareness.
They picked a barren wall in an area where people never thought twice before littering.
“We choose this particular area (Hauz Khas Village) in Delhi because we saw that the plastic problem kept increasing there,” Manen said. “We saw that people just threw their garbage onto the street without anyone noticing it.
“We wanted to convert it into a place where one can use it as a nice spot to chill.”
Once the mural was done, there was an instant transformation around the area. The compliments soon began to pour in from local residents and shopkeepers. “Besides the fact that the mural brightens up the street, it also reminds the people to throw their waste in the bin made for the campaign. It has become a cleaner and better use of public space.”
Their campaign, #ikeepdelhiclean, began in full swing to make people aware about littering, its adverse effects on the environment, and how it spoils the beauty of an area. “We noticed that the problem starts when people receive a bag after a purchase. They use this plastic bag for approximately 20 minutes, after which it ends up on the street.”
The duo, continuing with their campaign, also created a collection of bags made out of waste plastic, to show the many ways one can utilise waste.
In 2013, the Central Pollution Control Board released a report that checked the rate of plastic waste generation in India. The report said that while India generated about 5.6 million metric tonnes annually, Delhi topped the charts. The daily count in Delhi was 689.5 metric tonnes of waste generated.
Manen and Littooij are keeping their hopes up on the youth of the country to do something about the littering situation. “We think that a younger group of Indians can make the difference for the plastic waste problem in the future. We are working on trying to make them have a different outlook on sustainability order to reach a larger group of people. They are the solution for the future.”