February 27 was no regular Sunday for the employees of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC). A surprise was in store for them from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in his Mann Ki Baat address lauded the civic body’s Cloth Bag Challenge initiative launched in schools to motivate schoolchildren to adopt alternatives to plastic bags.
The Prime Minister had a word of appreciation for students who prepared their own cloth bags by stitching together waste pieces of cloth as part of the Swachh Survekshan initiative, and praised the civic body for inculcating the idea among schoolchildren.
The words of encouragement from the Prime Minister served as a morale booster for the civic body, which then resolved to completely ban single-use plastic from June 5. Three months down the line, there has been a drastic shift in the public’s perception towards plastic usage.
People are now carrying their own cloth bags while shopping for groceries and are taking steel boxes to buy meat. Vendors have put up ‘No plastic bags’ posters on their vehicles and the once-ubiquitous plastic water sachets can no longer be found at most weddings or large gatherings. These measures indicate that Vizag is now among the frontrunners in the country in its fight against plastic.
“After the Prime Minister’s recognition, the GVMC along with the district administration has started conducting the ‘Saagara Theera Swachhata’ beach clean-up programme on the first Sunday of every month. The success of that programme gave us the confidence of going for the decision to ban single-use plastic from June 5. We announced the decision to the public on June 5, which was World Environment Day, and launched a countdown highlighting the decision,” said GVMC Commissioner G. Lakshmisha.
It was not an easy task given the volume of single-use plastic bags being sold across the city every day, acknowledged the Municipal Commissioner. “First, we identified major sources of plastic wastes such as Rythu Bazaars, grocery stores, flower markets, shopping complexes, bakeries, street vendors. tea stalls and tiffin shops. In a span of two months (June and July), the GVMC staff organised around 200 awareness programmes in such areas, creating awareness on the perils of plastic usage. Vendors were advised to adopt alternatives to plastic. The civic body also organised meetings with Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), NGOs, ad agencies, industries, flexi printers and shopping malls seeking their support,” Mr. Lakshmisha said.
According to Mr. Lakshmisha, the ‘Giri Pradakshina’ festival of Varaha Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy organised on July 12 this year was an occasion to send out a strong message to the public on the plastic ban. Distribution of single-use plastic water sachets saw a steep decline during the festival for the first time, he said.
“The GVMC, RWAs and NGOs used steel and paper glasses and provided food in disposable plates. Similarly, during the India-South Africa cricket match held on June 14 in the city, plastic was banned. These sent a strong message to people on how earnestly the ban on plastic was being imposed in the city. We also used these events to promote the use of alternative products such as paper bags and jute bags,” he said.
Subsequently, an ‘Eco-Mela’ event organised by the civic body at Beach Road as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations to promote environment-friendly products garnered a lot of public interest.
Beach clean-up drive
The Beach Clean-up drive organised by the State government in association with U.S.-based NGO ‘Parley for the Oceans’ and the GVMC is considered a milestone in the fight against plastic waste.
A 28-km stretch from the Naval Coastal Battery (NCB) to Bheemunipatnam was cleaned by around 22,000 volunteers comprising government employees, students, RWAs, NGOs, and personnel from the Navy, Indian Coast Guard and police. About 76 tonnes of waste was cleared in what was likely the biggest beach clean-up programme organised in the world, thus helping put Vizag on the global map.
Giving a fillip to the plastic ban, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, after attending the beach clean-up drive, declared that all of Andhra Pradesh should be made ‘plastic-free’ by 2027.
The civic staff believe that with the setting up of a Parley Super Hub and a Parley Future Institute, Vizag will become a torchbearer for other ULBs in the country in the implementation of the ban on single-use plastic.
Mr. Lakshmisha said that to sustain the plastic ban initiative, the GVMC is trying to invite and encourage eco-friendly products manufacturers and suppliers.
“We are mulling to invite such industries through the Urban Community Development (UCD) wing and provide training to our SHGs which could benefit both their establishments as well as our SHGs. If they want to set up some units here, we would pass it to the State government and provide possible help,” he added.
The GVMC chief also said that in all the municipal schools, they would be replacing plastic dustbins with bamboo bins and also introduce pens made of bamboos. We are working with a consultation agency on this,” he said.