May 10, 2016RockyFeet

SWM Model Village on the Shores of Sundarbans

Concern

Lakshmipur and Bishnupur are two neighbouring villages in South 24 Parganas of West Bengal. They are bounded by rivers of the Sunderban Mangrove System. The villages have around a 1000 families each and most of the population is engaged in farming and fishing. Though their livelihood is still more connected to nature than any urbanized factory based daily life yet a major problem for both the villages is that they are plagued by plastic pollution, a nightmare which the whole world is dealing with. And the vicinity of this pollution is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We are majorly concern on,

  • Level of awareness regarding plastic pollution among the accountable population.
  • Existing waste management practices.

IMG_6083

Analysis & Survey

We wanted to reach out to individuals of the localities to get an idea of the amount of damage caused due to the plastic problem in their villages and to make them aware of their responsibilities to reduce this strain on the environment.

  • Over two days we collected information about 7 households through interaction with their members.
  • We also visited 4 primary schools where we interacted with teachers and parents of the students.
  • At the above places we discussed responsible practices for handling plastic waste and the problems associated with it in the following framework:
  • Plastic is currently ever-present in our lives.
  • Consequently we generate a lot plastic waste. (A village of 1000 households will generate 2000 polythene bags per day if they use just 2 bags per day per household.)
  • This plastic does not decompose naturally. Instead it damages the environment locally or globally no matter where it ends up (land, water or air).
  • There is thus a global initiative underway to first retard and then remove this problem. But for that action must be taken at once and at all levels.
  • Individual’s responsibilities lie in reducing the use of plastic, reusing whatever plastic is already present, then segregating the rest of the plastic for recycling and finally spreading awareness about the problem.
Name of PersonVillageDate of interactionNumber of members in household
“Basudevbabu”Lakshmipur01-04-2016 and 02-04-201615
Sahadeb JanaLakshmipur01-04-201610
Kanailal BarikLakshmipur01-04-201612
Sankar DasLakshmipur01-04-20168
Srikanta BarikLakshmipur01-04-201610
Narayan Chandra BhuiyanLakshmipur01-04-201612
Shyamapada DharaLakshmipur02-04-201612

Survey

Observation

  • In the span of our dialogues we did not come across a single person who did not agree that plastic is “evil”, but the villages were still littered with plastic, especially around public places like markets and temples.
  • The villagers generally acknowledged to the fact that littered plastic in the village is aesthetically unpleasant and that left by itself, plastic does not get decomposed in soil or water. The methods adopted for plastic disposal are as follows:
  • Polythene packets, plastic plates and glasses, plastic sachets and wrappers (i.e. most HDPE, all LDPE and all PS) are collected over time in piles and burnt. This produces a pungent gas which is harmful by common knowledge.
  • PET bottles and hard plastic items like buckets, mugs, pipes (i.e. some PET, most PVC and some PP) are sold for recycling to a resident called Hari. This plastic is pelletized.
  • The plastic unaccounted for stays littered in the village or gets blown away to neighbouring lands while some finds its way into the river.
  • The response from our audience was sympathetic and even those who disagreed at some points agreed in principle with what we had to say. We received several testimonies of damage caused by plastic.
  • A local fisherman testified to the fact that you are likely to dredge up a whole sack of plastic if you drag your net for fishes in the river.
  • Another fisherman spoke about fishes getting trapped and killed in polythene packets.
  • A farmer testified that plastic up to 3 feet below the soil prevent the growth of root structures of saplings leading to their death.
  • One individual recalled an incident where his gingers were ruined due to a layer of plastic built up below.

 

  • The chief objections raised were as follows:
  • Upstream control of plastic is necessary; such as ban on plastic at shops and factories, enforced by the government.
  • Simply preaching responsible habits is not enough, unless viable alternatives for plastics and plastic waste management are put in place.
  • Since previous short term ban on plastic bags at market and single clean up drive (Nirmal Graam, where the collected trash was burned) organized by the administration had no effect, such attempts are likely to fail.

 

Approach Solution

  • Continue visits to reach out to more and more villagers to raise awareness on the growing concerns of plastic and adoption of the “4R” for dealing with plastic, using audio-visual aids.
  • Reduce the use of plastic bags provided by shop owners and carry their own shopping bags made of biodegradable materials like jute.
  • Reuse the plastic that they already own as much as possible before they are disposed of.
  • Reduce the amount of plastic they litter or burn till a time when an alternative system can be put in place to recycle the wastes which they do not already sell for recycling.
  • Raise concern regarding the hazards posed by plastic on their living and livelihood and the ways in which they can prevent them by speaking to their family, friends and neighbours.
  • Reach out to shops and markets which are the source of a major proportion of plastic in circulation and suggest viable alternatives. With a reduced demand for plastic bags shop keepers are likely to switch to other alternatives as well. A few shopkeepers expressed their own unwillingness to give out plastic as it adds to expenses. But they have to bend to the demands of the customers.
  • Educate the future generation in the local schools about the natural world and that it requires saving from the evils of plastic through increased nature awareness and participating in environment-friendly activities from a young age.
  • Generate comprehensive lists of grades of plastic waste (PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP, PS, PC) generated and recycled by “Hari”. Collect information about the process of recycling adopted and implement modifications to this existing system to make it more efficient.
  • Involve the local administration in executing the steps above.

We believe that with concentrated effort, continuous awareness drives and a sustainable system in place, we can ensure zero plastic waste for this community and create an example for other communities similarly impacted by the hazards of plastic.

Other Observations and Opportunities

  • Farmers have tried organic fertilizers, insecticides and various methods of composting, but due to low production and a heavy investment of time, have switched back to chemical fertilizers and insecticides. Farmers often rotate leguminous crops to increase soil fertility. So there is an opportunity to work on understanding and improving the methods of composting applied.
  • Villagers regularly dump trash, including broken glass into the river. Such practices mush be prevented and the river must be restored.
  • Power supply is limited and villagers have resorted to installing solar panels wherever possible. There is a possibility of installing more solar panels and working on other alternative power sources like “gobar gas”.
  • There is a rich biodiversity which must be documented and preserved in situ.

Warm Acknowledgements

This project is a collaborative effort with The Mitra Society who have been working at Lakshmipur and Bishnupur to improve Government Primary Education and also to improve the quality of lives of the locals by employing them to teach the children. Yet another one of their goals was to remove plastic waste from these villages and we are immensely happy that Snehangshu Patra asked us to help in this regard. We thank “Basudevbabu”, without whose constant assistance, this visit would not have been fruitful. He and Snehangshu Patra arranged all aspects of our visit to Lakshmipur and Bishnupur. We also thank Dilip Das and his entire family for hosting us and feeding us the local delicacies. Finally, we thank the people of Lakshmipur and Bishnupur for the hearty welcome we received. These villages have much to offer in beauty and as a source of inspiration for anyone who wants to build a sustainable habitat in a harsh environment.


Gallery

Lakshmipur
Lakshmipur and Bishnupur

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