By Subham Swabhiman
As Paulo Coelho says," The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion". Simran Chhotray's work elucidates this quote. She is the founder of Guardians of Greenery or GAG, a nonprofit organisation which aims to reduce plastic pollution and spread awareness on its detrimental effects on the environment.
It all began when Simran, a 21-year-old college student living in Bhubaneswar, India was scrolling through posts and videos of people ranting over social media on climate change. With a bit of concern and curiosity, she started asking her friends and peers for ideas on how to conduct social projects for climate change. After a bit of research and feedback, she found out that although there are many factors which affect our climate, plastic pollution acts as a major catalyst. She made a firm decision to take action towards a plastic-free environment. When she conveyed the idea to her friends, everyone agreed, and there was no looking back; the organisation was formed. Initially, the organisation would upload awareness posts on social media. With time, people started noticing the posts. Many of them asked questions like what the organisation does, how it works, how could they volunteer or participate, etc. At this point, Simran felt that she should start taking outdoor action.
Basically, GAG operates in three sessions namely- Interactive Phase, Cleaning Phase and Feedback Phase. In the first phase, the organisation has an interactive session with local people. It asks questions such as: how does plastic affect the environment and climate, what happens if it is incinerated or left as a waste, is it dangerous for marine life, does it have any alternatives, how much the person is dependent on plastic, etc. This is done to test their knowledge about plastic. After getting the answers, the GAG members educate the people from citing local examples to explaining concrete encounters at a global level to make them more involved, and to understand about plastic pollution through facts and figures.
Next comes the Cleaning session. The members of GAG select a public place, organize a setup which takes around one hour and distribute themselves to collect various plastic wastes such as plastic bottles, polythene bags, food packages, wrappers, etc. The accumulated waste is then sent to kabadi wala (the Hindi translation for “scrap dealer” ) for recycling purposes. This session continues for around 2 to 2.5 hours. The organisation chooses polluted and overlooked places where people have the time to see what the organisation is doing to promote awareness at the same time. In the last session, GAG members communicate with the people who are watching them clean and receive feedback from them. The members get ideas, opinions on its code of conduct, pieces of advice, suggestions, etc. The members have a one on one interaction with the people. They ask people if they are conscious about plastic pollution and also ask if they want to contribute or donate any amount for the purpose. A register is maintained containing a name, number, the amount contributed (if any) and other information about the person with whom they have interacted with.
Till date, GAG has done two major social projects which have impacted 150+ people. The first project was implemented as The Clean-up Campaign at Unit-2, Market Building, Bhubaneswar which focused on proper disposal of single-use plastics, use of single-use plastics and the need for recycling plastic. The second project was conducted at Nilamadhav Slum, Bhubaneswar where along with plastic cleaning, it also carried a plantation drive.
Meanwhile, GAG faces various hurdles in achieving its goals. One of them includes the reluctance of people to opt for plastic alternatives as plastic is cheap and readily available. The organisation tries to overcome it by spreading awareness through social media, hosting educational events, etc. The next challenge is arranging resources such as jute bags, biodegradable gloves, etc. which are rarely found. This is done by contacting the supplier beforehand. The members of the organisation are college students, so only for a limited period of time that they can get engaged. It also cannot operate much after the evening as some members live in hostels. So it usually plans its activities during the daytime and on weekends.
Above all, the organisation has future plans for reaching more people and spreading awareness through social media and fieldwork. GAG is targeting schools for its upcoming projects to educate young generations on plastic pollution so that from the early stage they will cultivate the habit of judicious use of plastics. It also aspires to expand its base by adding more members as it has around 30 members now. Moreover, it is looking for more donors who can lend a hand in the fulfilment of their purpose. All of these are to be achieved one at a time as the organisation is new and inexperienced.
Simran has a message for all those people who want to start their own social startups. She states, " If something makes you feel things aren't going the way it should, take action. It's never too late to be a superhero of your own".