Plogging while travelling

With Earth Day being observed on April 22, here’s how you can vacation and be part of a cleanliness drive

As the train chugs up the Nilgiris, I try not to look down. Because when I do, in just two minutes, I count 21 discarded water bottles lying by the tracks only on my side of the window. I am not counting the hundreds of juice cartons and chips packets. Jacob Cherian’s words haunt me: “Once a piece of plastic comes to the hills, it never leaves.”


Cherian has been in the news lately for turning litter-picking into an event in Kodaikanal! So successful was he that a consortium of 70-odd hotels has invited him to organise a Plogging event in Wayanad. “Some friends have asked me to visit them in Mumbai and Bengaluru to do the same,” he laughs. He is now in touch with activists in the Nilgiris, to see if locals can be galvanised into action to keep their environment clean.


Point of no return?

As social media fills up with stories of beached whales with tonnes of plastic inside them, seahorses with ear buds caught in their tails, grains of plastic in sea salt, islands of plastic floating on the oceans... the reality is sinking in. Many believe we have long crossed the point of no return but some insist we can still get our act together. And start with your neighbourhood before you set out to change the world. Like the Swedes who have made plogging the most happening eco-friendly fitness trend of the year.

Plogging while travelling

On another hill far away from the Nilgiris and Kodaikanal live 34-year-old Daniel Langthasa and his wife Avantika Haflongbar. They run an NGO called Tryst Network that works with tribal weavers in Assam. Avantika was impressed by a YouTube video of some Swedes picking up litter as they jogged and decided they could do the same. “We have been talking about working on our health and done nothing about it,” says Langthasa.


So the next day, they set off on a walk carrying a bag each. They walked up and down a flight of 400 steps and picked up wafer packets, cartons and plastic bottles on the way. “Haflong is Assam’s only hill station and we have watched in dismay as litter has slowly appeared and spread in our pristine surroundings.” Even though Haflong has a small population, changing lifestyles have contributed to the litter, says Langthasa. “Thanks to Swachh Bharat, there are sporadic drives, but often they become photo-ops and the initiative dies down. But trash collects every day. It has to be cleared every day and it has to be a sustained activity.”

Plogging while travelling

In a short video they uploaded of them plogging, they invited other Haflong inhabitants to join them on their walk and clean up their beloved hill station along the way. “Many of those who saw the video, loved the idea and some tagged me to other people who felt the same way,” says Langthasa.


It was garbage that led ad filmmaker Mc Matthew to give up his career and focus on trying to set things right with the world, in his own small way, he says. “No matter where I went to shoot a film — whether a jungle, the beach or some remote village — there was always garbage in the frame.”

Catch them young

He began by cleaning up the area so he could get a ‘clean’ shot, and later this became his calling. He began by calling out people who tossed garbage carelessly out of cars, into the sea, off the cliffs. But Matthew is doubtful if the adults of the world take this seriously enough.

Plogging while travelling

He finds children more receptive to clean-up projects. “We organised a beach event, where we had a DJ and a beer sponsor and about 60 adults turned up, enjoyed the day and cleaned up too. But they didn’t want to do it again. Whereas when we worked with a school, it worked like a charm. Two hundred children turned up and cleaned the earmarked area, all the while dancing to a band we had organised. There was juice and healthy snacks and the children lapped it up. We did this over two days.” Matthew calls his project a ‘gatekeepers’ experiment’. “I gift a pot with a flowering seed to friends, foes and complete strangers. It is my way of telling the earth that we care for her. It is a simple idea to change people’s views. I truly believe that collective consciousness can change things.”

“My policy is to leave a place cleaner than it was when I went there,” says 38-year-old marathoner Srinivasan Swaminathan. He has run thousands of kilometres all over the world and says his first run was to raise money for his Teach For India Classroom in Mumbai. “Cleaning up is my act of gratitude towards a town or city. I will not walk past garbage and I will definitely not produce any garbage. I run wherever I am and I have even cleaned up in Sweden, where I picked cigarette butts off the street.”

He and a bunch of young people still go about quietly cleaning up bus stops and other public spaces. “I sometimes take ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures and leave those behind as a silent message about not littering.”

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 1:07:21 PM |

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