Angels of Mumbai: A man on the mission to make city plastic-free

Mumbai: A city-based environmentalist, Rishi Agarwal, took it upon himself to come up with the Safai Bank, an initiative to eliminate multi-layered plastic (MLP), which was started in April 2018 and has managed to divert 35 lakh wrappers from Mumbai and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) alone from reaching to the city’s dumping ground and landfills.

Agarwal, founder of this green project, who participated actively in various issues largely in subjects of waste management aims to dispose MLP in a proper scientific manner. The slogan of the project also advises, “Don’t bin it. Bank it.” Over 50,000 students from Mumbai and other cities are associated with the project, and close to 125 schools in the MMR have set up Safai Banks, where wrappers are deposited and later sent to waste management companies for co-processing for complete disposal. With this effort, the initiative aims to reduce the burden on municipal corporations, which are responsible to manage the city’s waste.

Angels of Mumbai: A man on the mission to make city plastic-free

Speaking about the project, Agarwal claimed that it was conceptualised when he saw wrappers littered on trails in Uttarakhand. Wrappers, being lightweight, had covered most of the trees there. It was also the main cause of choking the drainage system besides causing marine pollution as it flew in sea and other water bodies easily. Dismayed, he started collecting waste and thought of setting up a bank where one can deposit wrap[1]pers. Being an activist, he also frequently visited dumping grounds in different cities, where he found more wrappers there.

Subsequently, his team tied up with schools and colleges where such Safai Banks could be set up. Agarwal explained, “A lot of children consume wafers, which come in multi-layered packets. Since children are the biggest consumers of wafers and food items packaged in such wrappers, Safai banks were set up in schools. We also offer a passbook to keep track of wrappers they’ve put to good use, which also acts as a learning tool to make them socially responsible.”

The lockdown, however, was a major setback with schools being closed, and the Safai Banks associated themselves with the JSW foundation to start a pilot project in residential buildings of K East civic ward comprising of eastern parts of Jogeshwari, Andheri and Vile Parle.

“A building named Takshila, which house 1,400 families, collected plastic rappers and managed to give out nearly 25 kg on Republic Day this year. A collaboration with 100 such buildings is in the pipeline,” said Agarwal. The initiative also has a backing from NEPRA, a waste management company in Ahmedabad, which provides them with vehicles to collect waste from all the Safai banks. Agarwal added that cement companies burn 1,000 tons of coal on an average and since wrappers have the same value, it can be sent for incineration in the cement kilns, which could be turned to energy.

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