#BeatPlasticPollution: Experiences from HSR Layout, Bengaluru

HSR Team.jpg

As a resident who shares shifting borders (shifting as it exists in my imagination and people’s convenience given that I reside at the intersection of two neighbourhoods) with HSR Layout.  A neighbourhood in Bangalore known for its parks and sought after as a  place in terms of real estate growth, given the strategic location along the Outer Ring Road. I often spend time, whenever free walking down the streets for my regular errands and sometimes to visit friends or work.

From August 2011 to Jan 2012, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Dry Waste Collection Center located at Sector 1 Park next to the Bangalore One office.  The experience at the DWCC was formative in my life given that it threw insights into the lives of informal waste workers, and the waste that people throw out. I became more conscious of the materials I buy and the ones that I discard. And single-use plastics were first on the list.  From water bottles to disposable cutlery including straws, to shiny gift wrap materials to the infamous plastic carry bags, it was everywhere.  While as a habit, my mother never packed food in anything remotely plastic and yes not even Tupperware, that habit was ingrained in me. I started shying away from the endless amount of chai in paper cups and carried my own steel mug.

Eventually, I moved away to other advocacy matters but followed the happenings in HSR Layout. One such thing was the self-imposed single-use plastic ban in January 2016, ahead of the official gazette in March 2016.

My colleagues Priyanka, Beula Anthony and I decided to chat up with the volunteers to unpack citizen-led environmental activism in the area, especially when the world is talking about #BeatPlasticPollution

Here are the excerpts of the interview on the HSR Model of Single-use Plastic Ban with Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz (Excerpts from the conversation)

Smita Kulkarni

IMG-20180522-WA0070 (1).jpg“My name is Smita Kulkarni, and a present resident of HSR Layout. My fellow Solid Waste management volunteer Malini Parmar and I started a social enterprise Stone Soup in May 2015. However, one of our biggest worries was the plastic bags and so Malini decided to start a project called “Borrow a bag”, inspired by the initiative “Rent a Bag”, in Sanjaynagar. And I joined her. We decided to pilot in HSR Layout, given the strong citizen-led team and their commitment to implementing sustainable waste management practices. We approached Dr Shanthi Tummala, an active resident who was very positive about the idea. We started off with some basic grocery stores like Shobha, Aishwarya, MK Retail. We gave them bags, with the intention that the customers will borrow the bags, instead of buying plastic bags. Unfortunately, there were no takers. So Shanthi got volunteers together and every weekend we would campaign outside the supermarket, explaining to the customers about plastic bags and the environment, alternative to plastics, get your own bag etc. We saw success only when we were campaigning. 

We also go to know that a typical small vendor was spending about rupees five thousand, a medium retail store about Rupees thirty thousand and the large retail store about rupees two Lakhs a month. These figures were alarming and we realised that our effort was very minuscule. We were charging about Rs. 20, 30 and 40 as a deposit fee and if the customer chose to return the bag within a week, he would receive a full refund. A charge of Rupees two was imposed as late fee. The shopkeepers were charged a service fee of Rupees three hundred to seven hundred a month. That’s when we learned about Dr Sandhya, Nodal Officer, Managed Health Care from the BBMP who has launched the battle against single-use plastic in Ward 7, Coffee Board Layout, Yelahanka in December 2015 and we shadowed her work. We saw the way she was implementing the plastic ban and saw a huge potential in a way they were looking at plastics.

Dr Shanti saw an opportunity and though we must not make it an option, a mandate… Dr Shanti approached the local MLA who readily agreed to flag off the self-imposed ban, given that the rules were tabled at the Council and were yet to be passed. On January 3rd, 2016, the MLA flagged off the ban in front of all residents. We had a huge walkathon and we went door-to-door about the ban and got their signatures that they received the notice and were aware of the ban. It was informed that post-January 15, plastic carry bags would be seized if found and penalty imposed. We had posters printed on what is banned and what are the alternatives. We did have a lot of arguments with shopkeepers but they eventually agreed to display the notification. Their main grievance was “Customers will not change”.

We sent a note sent in every student’s diary, through the Joint Commissioner. We had skits performed at schools to sensitize the people about the ban. We were trying to make a lot of noise about this.  On 16th January 2018, the JC had a team of around 16 health inspectors from the zone in and they did extensive raids in two main commercial areas in HSR Layout. It was a whole tractor full of plastics. As it was a weekend, shopkeepers were running helter-skelter for alternatives and that weekend was when HSR Layout truly transformed. People were carrying tomatoes in their tomatoes, people carrying stuff in their helmets, some of them were taking it in a basket and emptying into their cars. But nobody complained…”

 

Dr Shanthi Tummala

Shanti-1

Photo Credit: Asbjørn Christensen

“I am Dr Shanti, a resident of HSR Layout and a dentist by profession. My foray into the field of waste management took place, post a visit to landfill and then I saw the mixed garbage collection in front of my house and that pinched me. And that’s when I knew I had to something. In 2012, segregation was mandated and even though people were segregating, the system of collection which was flawed encouraged mixing of the waste. So we believed that there need to be systemic changes and we spoke to our Joint Commissioner and encouraged separate bins for wet and sanitary waste and bags for dry waste. Once that was in place, we realised that plastic bags were the main hindrance to the segregated collection, as people were tying up wet waste in plastic bags. And so we believed that banning plastic carry bags was a step in the direct direction. Our MLA really supported our belief and the officials stood ground, despite pressures by the commercial establishment to revoke the ban or ease the penalty.

Citizens were apprehensive about giving wet waste without plastic lining or bag. The challenge for us was to convince the residents as they came up with different arguments from ‘Why don’t you ban manufacturing then we stop etc’,  but when there is a mandate, they do comply.

Our success mantra: Strong political backing, excellent support from the officers, which is consistent and pro-active. A plastic-ban would work if two hours every day is spent on plastic ban enforcement.  The formula of drives one day and enforcement once in a blue is not effective. There needs to be consistency. Peer-pressure works too. And so there is no competition among shopkeepers”

Here’s a photo essay of the walk around HSR Layout

MangoCHai shop HSRHSR Layout Super MarketsOrangeFlower shop

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Other shop keepers.jpg

Here’s the link to the Audio

Audio Interview: Priyanka, Beula Anthony and Priyanka

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L to R: Priyanka, Beula Anthony and Pinky Chandran

 

Photo Credits: Pinky Chandran and Beula Anthony

Editing: Beula Anthony and Priyanka

Written by Pinky Chandran

Download the Radio ACtive 90.4 app from Google Play available for Android Phones. 

 

 

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