While working for a Unnat Bharat Abhiyan supported project at Madhopur village in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh, one of my prime responsibilities was to deliver programs for rural communities on environmental awareness, focusing on the issues of plastic pollution and waste management.
The participants of the program were mostly farmers, daily wage labourers, shopkeepers and school children. They listened to the lecture very patiently in spite of their busy schedule. When our team discussed the adverse effects of using plastic bags, they were very much eager to actively participate in this programme to make their village plastic free and replace it with cloth bags.
Almost all the villagers agreed to what we had to say, but one of the biggest questions I faced during the program was: “what should we do to our waste other than dumping it on some isolated land or ultimately burning it ?”
Prima facie, the question looks easy but being aware of the pathetic condition of plastic pollution and waste management infrastructure in rural area, it is not simply a matter of adapting to change. It was very difficult for me.
Most of the time people ignore the consequences, are left with no option but to burn the plastic waste or dump it in local water bodies.
Since childhood, I used to see that my mother would keep plastic bags safely with the objective of reusing when needed, particularly during rainy days due to low supply of plastic bags in rural areas. But, at present, growing up in a rural community has been an opportunity to observe the difference between the quality and the quantity of the plastic waste that was generated two decades ago and the plastic waste that is generated now. The type of plastic and polythene waste has increased in quantity which multiplied manifold, which has led to a surge in heaps of waste in rural areas.
Rural transition towards urban practice and raising in the FMCG sector and its intrusion in the local markets are the reason for increased consumerism and in the absence of waste dumping sites and waste collection bins, wrappers and plastic bags are seen all around.
Easily available and durable plastic bottles, glasses and plates have replaced traditional and biodegradable pattal. Local water bodies such as rivers, tanks, ponds and drains are filled with these plastics and allied products. The change in the pattern of consumption and plastic waste generation has not been addressed at the pace it was needed. The infrastructure facilities seems to be insufficient to tackle the situation and local governance system has collectively failed to fulfill the needs of rural communities.