Moving towards a cleaner environment

Sangeeta Shirname, Sangita Kulathinal and Bijoy Joseph for the Indic Society for Education and Development, India

Published: 2010.07.10


On an average 23 metro cities (total population of 66,885,287) in India generate municipal solid waste (MSW) of 30,058 tonnes/day or 0.449 kg/day per capita [1]. The MSW is composed of (as a percentage of the different constituents by weight) paper (5.7%), textile (3.5%), leather (0.8%), plastic (3.9%), metal (2.1%), glass (2.1%), ash, fine earth and others (40.3%), and compostable matter (41.80%) [1, 2]. Even though food wastes constitute the major portion of MSW, changes in economic status has brought in changes in consumer pattern especially in the increasing use of packaged products and plastic.

Several Indian states such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, West Bengal etc. banned the use of plastic bags below a certain thickness [3]. Plastic and other combustible fraction in waste can be processed for RDF production which promotes "waste to energy" option [2]. In India, most municipalities do not have enough waste bins. More than 65% of municipal solid waste ends up in open dumps [3]. In some municipalities, poor public cooperation on waste management leads to ignorance on solid waste management which in turn leads to dumping of MSW in open spaces, along the roadsides, or in canals and rivers and on vacant plots, which result into blocked drains and the consequent flooding during the monsoon season. Littering of plastic bags along the road is a particular aesthetic irritation and also cause the death of stray grazing animals.

The free availability and easy convenience of plastic carrier bags or shopping bags have led to their increasing use and uptake by the general population, both urban and rural. A lack of awareness about solid waste management and the resultant improper disposal of solid waste are increasingly contaminating and polluting our environment. Inspite of several measures and policies by the government towards MSW management, there has been no active participation of the communities in these. Special programs promoting public awareness and attitudes to protect environment would definitely be a major step towards a cleaner environment. Education is the key to the success of any new policy on waste management.

When it comes to reducing the pollution by plastic bags, reduction in their usage, replacing them by reusable bags such as cloth bags or recyclable bags are the only measures (the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle principle). A serious attempt from the society is needed for this.


The main objective of this movement is to reduce the usage of plastic bags (and thereby the pollution) by involving communities. The following goals are to be achieved by working with communities.


The first step is to involve a community where people are educated, aware and care for the environment protection, and above all, are willing to volunteer. Then, form a small group of volunteers who would lead the community to achieve the above goals and to devise the various stages of the project. The group of volunteers will be encouraged to undertake the following measures.

Furthermore, it is recommended to recruit needy people from near the locality to make paper bags out of newspapers, and cloth bags out of used but sturdy and presentable clothes of different sizes and shapes. This has an added advantage of creating employment locally. Fancier bags (e.g. jute bags) can also be designed and ordered from professional bag makers. The manufactured bags should be distributed locally among the shops, cleaners and vendors.

Further, the experience gained from such activities should be shared with other communities in conducting similar projects. This should be advertised and promoted as a sociable and eco-friendly activity.

Case studies

The purpose of this section is to document experiences of group leaders (in thier own words) from various communities in implementing this project in collaboration with INSEED.

Case study 1: Plastic-bag free suburb of Mumbai, Thakur village

The community based at Thakur village, Kandivali, a suburb of Mumbai was the first one to take active part in this study. The study was initiated and coordinated by Sangeeta Shirname, Founder member of INSEED. The community memebers who took responsibility of this project were Babita Pachisia, Farida Variava and Shruti Baluni. Click here to read the experiences from Thakur village in the words of the group who undertook the study.

If you are interested in joining this movement, please contact sangeeta.shirname *at* for details.


  1. Joseph, Kurian (2002). Perspectives of solid waste management in India. Paper presented at Tongji University Symphosium on Technology and Mangement of the/2002 Shanghai Workshop. URL:
  2. Visvanathan, C (2002). Solid Waste Management in Asian Perspectives. Paper presented at Tongji University Symphosium on Technology and Mangement of the/2002 Shanghai Workshop. URL:
  3. Plastic bag pollution. A report published online on URL: