Amaravati: A malnourished septuagenarian woman heard from people around that a rice-for-plastic counter would be set up in East Godavari's Peddampuramm, a small town which has a population of 50,000 people. She went round colonies, picking up plastic covers, bottles and tiny things thrown in the streets. By Wednesday, she gathered a bag full of plastic waste, in just three days. She walked down to the counter that was set up by a group of local youths and exchanged it for rice.
“She gave us three kg of plastic waste and went back with three kg of rice,” says Naresh Pedireddi, the young cashew entrepreneur whose brainchild is 'rice-for-plastic-waste'. He runs a Facebook group named Mana Peddapuram, which has close to 24,000 members, and has 2,000 volunteers on the ground.
The group members put together two different news stories. Firstly, India generates 25 lakh tons of plastic waste and only nine per cent of it goes for recycling. Secondly, India stands at 103 in the hunger index.
“When these two were matched, the result was our idea to collect plastic and give rice. We named it "Avoid Plastic - Avoid Hunger". The members readily agreed and we fixed the day of Gandhi Jayanthi for the inauguration. We will continue this programme on a weekly basis,” Naresh said. On the first day, the group collected 200 kgs of plastic, which was reciprocated with 200 kg of quality rice costing Rs 30 a kg.
To encourage children to also participate in plastic waste collection or disposal, the group offered toys and chocolates. The group tied up with the local municipality for reuse of plastic collected through this initiative.
The four-year-old group does not depend on donations. When it announces a programme, the members themselves offer their contributions. For the rice-for-plastic programme, many members and local entrepreneurs offered one bag to ten bags (of 25 kg) of rice. The material would be collected when required.
Drawing inspiration from the group, youth in ten villages in East Godavari organised similar programmes on Wednesday. “Still people are contacting us for information and guidance,” Naresh added.
The group also administered a oath on its members against using harmful plastic. The understanding is that anybody found using plastic would be clicked and the photo would be posted on social media to expose their pseudo commitment.
The Chirala municipality in Prakasam district also held a plastic waste collection programme, offering fruits and vegetables.