It is rush hour at Secunderabad Railway station. We wade our way through a packed platform to get to the escalator. A family of four, carrying their luggage, stop at a machine in a corner and place an empty plastic bottle into an opening in the front and watch as the machine crushes it into bits. The family has done its bit to kill the plastic monster and make the world cleaner.
It has been a year-and-half since South Central Railway (SCR) installed this eco-friendly plastic bottle shredders at Secunderabad railway station to minimise plastic waste on its premises. The station now has 12 machines spread over its platforms and the coach yard. In fact, Kachiguda railway station had first installed a plastic bottle shredder machine three years ago.
Interestingly, these shredders at Secunderabad have been placed right next to the trash bins, for a good reason. Station master Ch Jayaram explains, “This is to make it convenient for people who usually throw plastic bottles into the bins, to instead put them in the shredders. Some continue to throw them in dustbins, but our cleaning staff picks up these bottles from the bins and putsthem in the shredder.”
Made of solid metal, these green coloured machines that run on electricity work 24x7, as railway stations have uninterrupted power supply. Jaswinder Osahan, senior manager-operations of Updater Services (facility manager for this railways station’s operations and maintenance) explains, “Once the bottle is placed in the slot, it drops down slowly so that the rotation blades take over to crush it into small pieces, which are then collected in a container. The next bottle can be put in after 30 seconds,” pointing out that the shredders do not have any capacity constraints. The shredded material is collected in a bag, given out to a vendor, who in turn hands it over to an approved recycler. The technical and housekeeping department handle the operations of the shredder.
The bottle shredding machines are installed through funds provided under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the stations. The first machine was donated by HAL and now IRCTC is also on board. These shredders mark SCR’s steps towards proper disposal of the vast number of used plastic bottles that accumulate at stations and thereby implement an environment-friendly waste disposal system.
In Secunderabad station which has a footfall of of 1.5 lakh every day, these shredders are making an impact, albeit slowly. . “We collect, on an average, eight to 10 kg of crush per day from all the shredders,” reveals Jasvinder, attributing the number to low awareness among travellers. “Some people confuse the shredder for water vending machines. They put a coin inside the slot and wait for water to come out. Also, we have to make sure that people do not put glass bottles inside the machine.”
Time constraints of passengers pose another hurdle to wider usage of the machines. “It is not a junction where people roam around on platforms or wait for long to catch a train. There is a huge rush, people either board the train or terminate their journey here. In both the cases, they either come at the last minute or immediately get out of the station. They don’t pause to use of this facility; instead they just carry empty bottles outside,” says PRO Shakeel Ahmed.
However SCR’s initiative has considerably reduced the littering of stations with plastic bottles. “It is a common practice among families to travel with many water bottles. They throw these empty bottles in the station and buy a new one. Sometimes they even throw them on the roads. Now, travellers use the water vending machines and some people avoid buying plastic water bottles.”
While the drive to beat plastic pollution catches on at railway stations, its social impact slowly integrates more people, which Jayaram is quick to call “a positive step.” He elaborates, “This eco-friendly step works in two ways — we not only stop rag pickers and beggars from using the harmful plastic bottles, but prevent taking them outside the station premises to sell or end up in landfills,”
Shakeel says with pride that Secunderabad zone has been at the forefront of introducing sustainable initiatives. “SCR was the first zone to have LED lights in its office complexes and residential quarters, by 2018. This is one way of doing our bit for a greener tomorrow. When railway stations become a platform for these eco-friendly practices, people also take them forward.”
On a positive note, the sustainable practice gains momentum as hospitals and temples are enquiring about the dynamics of these shredders.
So next time you are at a railway station, put your plastic bottle in the shredders, and prod others to do it too.
Planet Healers celebrates green initiatives. If you know an eco-warrior, email us at hydmetroplus@ thehindu.co.in