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Two local women lead the fight against plastic

Two local women lead the fight against plastic

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10 Aug 2018 No comment 36 hits

PANAJI: Seeing the futility in asking people to stop using plastic without offering alternatives, two women have begun two separate projects one in Vasco and the other in Ponda to make a difference. Both collect used but clean clothes from donors that are then converted into cloth bags.
Former school teacher Alka Damle, who spearheads the initiative in Vasco, provides the cloth bags free of cost to vegetable vendors in the port town. That she is assisted by voluntary organisations and the Mormugao municipal council is a significant advantage.

While pharmacist Meghana Keni has begun a similar practice in Ponda, her enterprise only recovers the cost that goes into stitching the bags in a bid to empower women and women’s self-help groups that produce them. She too has tied up with the local municipal council, which allows her organisation, Mudra Foundation, to set up a counter showcasing her cost-effective and environment-friendly bags at all major exhibitions held in the town.

It was after an eight-year-long involvement in clean-up drives in Vasco, that Damle was seized of how widespread the plastic menace really was in Vasco. Soon enough, she decided to do something about it. “Each one of us has so many good clothes that we no longer use and do not know who to give to. So, I appealed to hotels and citizens to donate old but clean bedsheets, tablecloths etc. Some prominent hotels in Vasco responded immediately. Many of my female friends did too,” Damle says.

With able assistance from the Desterro Eves Mahila Mandal chairperson, Celsa Antao, Damle was able to reach out to several self-help groups and get them to stitch bags from the donated clothes she had collected. The Mormugao municipal council subsequently purchased the bags produced by Desterro Eves.

In July alone, Damle distributed 5,000 bags made of used clothes to vendors in Vasco.

“The motive behind giving vendors cloth bags was to encourage them to provide the bags to customers for a fee, as is done in malls and departmental stores. However, vendors complain that most customers are nonchalant. They do not carry their own shopping bags because they expect to be provided bags at the market. This attitude can only be corrected if municipalities strictly implement a ban on plastic bags below 50 microns thick,” Damle says.

Thirty kilometres away, in Ponda, the year-old Mudra Foundation has created a bank of cloth bags. Keni, who has been heading the initiative with her lawyer brother Milind Paidarkar, and businesswoman Manisha Pai, says they outsource production of cloth bags to rural women most of whom are prohibited from stepping outside their homes with the intention of creating an income source for them.

“People tell us they don’t use plastic bags and then show us bags made of polypropylene. We thought that if could provide a cloth bag for just Rs 10, it could be used for at least six months, therefore not only making it not an environment-friendly but also a cost-effective solution,” Keni says. Her brother explains that the Mudra Foundation sources cloth through collection drives and that most of the donors are hotels, which tend to discard their linen every few months.

Small-time vendors, Damle says, are rather helpless when it comes to battling the plastic menace. “Some shopkeepers tell me it is the government that needs to either stop the production of plastic bags or fine customers who ask for one. They say that till that happens, they will not be able to discontinue stocking plastic bags and will continue to remain dependent on organisations like ours to keep supplying them the cloth bags.”

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