"In India, litter pickers do not receive the respect they deserve compared to their counterparts in foreign countries," said Vivek Gurav, founder of Pune Ploggers, during an exclusive conversation with The Free Press Journal. Gurav, currently working as an environmental consultant at a firm in the United Kingdom (UK), discussed the four-year journey of Pune Ploggers, his recent global recognition, and future plans.
'We are now focussing on chronic littering habits'
The initiative, started by Gurav and his college mates in Alandi, gained rapid momentum in the city, leading to the formation of Pune Ploggers. Gurav explained, "After four years, we have successfully collected over 20,000 tonnes of plastic. We've conducted 415 plogging drives consistently on Saturdays and Sundays. Currently, we have four community managers overseeing different parts of the city, and our volunteer base has grown from 10,000 to 15,000."
"We now cover all parts of the city, focussing on chronic littering habits, including discarded tobacco packets, tea cups, plastic bags, and wrappers. Main areas like JM Road and FC Road, with their high concentration of college students, are our primary focus. Additionally, we address the cleanliness of the riverbanks. We've observed positive changes after engaging with concerned individuals and raising awareness within the community," he added.
'Our current emphasis is on responsible tourism'
Gurav emphasised that Pune Ploggers' current focus is on responsible tourism. He mentioned, "Pune boasts many heritage sites such as Shanivarwada, along with several forts around the city. Litter at these locations negatively impacts the impression tourists have. So, we make an effort to clean up these tourist spots. Currently, we organise a plogging drive at Shanivarwada every Sunday."
He further elaborated, "We're also conducting a nationwide tourism campaign, covering regions like Kerala, Telangana, Karnataka, and soon Goa. Our goal is to increase awareness about different tourism destinations, waste management, and the broader issue of climate change that we are addressing."
'In India, there is very little awareness about hazardous waste'
Gurav, who has gained fame for starting a plogging community in Bristol, UK, pointed out that there are similar litter patterns in the UK and India. However, in India, there is very little awareness about hazardous and bio-medical waste. "People in India tend to dispose of their bio-medical waste along with their regular household waste, which is not the right practice. There needs to be more awareness among the people, and we are actively working towards achieving that," he emphasised.
He further highlighted the lack of respect and proper working conditions for sanitation workers in India. "Sanitation workers in India often work without protective gear like gloves and masks, which puts their health at risk. I'm in the process of engaging with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to address this issue and bring about a positive change in mindset," Gurav stated.
'Our campaign went global in UK'
Gurav's campaign, initially confined to India, took on a global dimension when he moved to the UK for his studies. His efforts led to recognition and accolades, including being featured on the BBC One Show, receiving the 'Points of Light Award' from then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and an invitation to 10 Downing Street by PM Rishi Sunak in October. In November, he had the opportunity to speak at COY17, the youth version of COP27, in Egypt.
Reflecting on his remarkable journey, Gurav admitted that he couldn't believe his achievements. "When Sunak invited me, I was the youngest person present at the event. I talked about the work I do and my future plans, and they paid close attention. In our country, this work is not seen as dignified, but with this global recognition, people witnessed the positive change happening, and now more people want to join the movement. Since then, we have expanded to two more countries, including Nepal and Bangladesh. In India, our presence has grown from 12 cities to 31," he shared.
'We are now bringing playaking'
Gurav is determined to make litter picking a more engaging and enjoyable activity. To attract more young participants, he introduced a new concept called "playaking" (a combination of plogging and kayaking), which involves cleaning up water bodies.
He explained, "We are planning to promote it at various tourist destinations in Pune and across the country. We recently organised a playaking event in Munnar, Kerala. It's part of our effort to make cleanliness more engaging and fun."
Additionally, he mentioned, "We are launching 'Climate Ki Baat' to connect with all the colleges and universities in the city. It's crucial to address this issue, especially among the younger population."
We are actively working on building collaborations with corporate companies and NGOs. Our aim is to diversify our activities beyond plogging. We are also advocating for cleanliness at the individual level by encouraging waste segregation into wet and dry categories - Sakshi Jain, a Pune Ploggers member
We often encounter challenges while coordinating with PMC employees. They are frequently late by 1-2 hours to collect the litter we've gathered, and on occasion, they demand money for waste disposal. Their attitude towards us is disrespectful, as if we are their employees. In reality, we're assisting in their work, and we hope for a more respectful and cooperative interaction - Harsh Jain, a Pune Ploggers member