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Gold Exchange Program in Indian Kashmir: Plastic Waste for Treasure


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Plastic is the new gold. At least it could lead to gold. Farooq Ahmad Janai in Indian-administered Kashmir has been running a program where people can bring in plastic rubbish in exchange for gold.

Last year, a friend of 51-year-old Ganai complained to him about the piles of rubbish scattered in Ganai Village, and he was insulted and hurt. Deep down, he wanted to bring about change because he held the position of village chief, or sarpanch, in his village Sadewara in Heller district of Shahabad in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

Ganai – a lawyer by profession – penned a project where he will offer a gold coin to collect plastic and polythene waste.

The campaign was launched under the slogan “Give Plastic, Take Gold” to address the challenges of solid waste management. He was joined in the campaign by volunteers from the sanitation department, the elderly, members of youth clubs, and some employees from other departments. The campaign was officially approved by the Anantnag district administration on January 7.

Under the scheme, anyone who collects 20 quintals (2,000 kilograms) of plastic waste from the village will receive a 10-gram gold coin. There is also a smaller bonus which is a 5 gram coin for 10 quintals. To get the reward, the village administration has started charging a user fee of 30 rupees ($0.37) from about 400 families in the village.

Janay said that since the campaign was launched, piles of plastic and polyethylene waste have been collected in his village and it has been a huge success because people get rewards for collecting the waste.

“People need some kind of incentive to do a certain action, and this plan has worked very well,” he said.

Within 15 days of launching the campaign, he said, at least 12 1km sites in his village had been cleaned up. The local River Branigam, which originates from the centuries-old Vhatsta spring, has also been cleaned up.

Janai said that in the four to five months since the campaign began, his village is now a rubbish-free zone. But he admitted that this could not be a permanent solution to reduce the use of plastic and polyethylene.

Banned but still in use

Since 2006, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh has issued a series of orders banning the use of polythene and single-use plastics in the region. On Earth, however, there has been an increase in the use of polythene and plastics, and piles of waste are being dumped on roadsides or near bodies of rivers.

According to a policy document released in 2018 by the provincial Department of Housing and Urban Development, the district generates more than 3,000 metric tons of waste per day, with plastic waste accounting for more than 40% of the garbage, and this is likely to increase if the steps are not implemented. Taken to implement solid waste management rules in the region.

Shefkat Nazir, a lawyer who filed a petition demanding the application of solid waste management rules in the region, told Anadolu Agency (AA) that it is unfortunate that the authorities are obstructing the application of the rules despite the numerous directives issued to them.

According to the rules, all local municipal bodies are obliged to take appropriate measures for the disposal and treatment of solid waste in the area.

However, an officer from the Srinagar Municipal Corporation told AA that in order to enforce the rules, manpower, infrastructure and more landfill sites are needed.

In the Kashmir region, there is only one landfill in the capital, Srinagar, which has been declared a health hazard as it emits an unpleasant stench.

“You collect waste and throw it in the landfill site, and most of it is not treated or disposed properly. It will stink more and more and will seriously affect people’s health,” Nazir said.

He added that a number of petitions have been filed before the courts against municipal bodies that dump hazardous waste near water bodies.

“You need awareness and application of the rules on the ground. Otherwise, it is difficult to change the situation,” Nazir said.

Small steps can make a big change

Back in his village, Ganai is looking forward to adopting a mechanism to convert waste plastic and polythene into items that can be used to beautify paths or in decorations.

“I am thinking about this issue more holistically. Although waste collection is important, we need to separate it and make it usable in some way or dispose of it properly,” he said.

He also said that people need to be made aware of the dangers of littering, as this affects the environment, water bodies, forests and agriculture.

Ghani hopes that the people in his village will continue to support him in this process and others will follow.

He said more than 35 surrounding villages have begun replicating the idea.

“These small steps give me some hope that we can do good, if not better, for our environment,” he said.

Riaz Ahmad Shah, Assistant Commissioner of Anantnag told AA that the campaign has received a good response and that they are making it applicable in all villages.

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