Eco-Warrior Profile: One Man’s Race to End Plastic Waste in India
Let’s face it: picking up trash is annoying. None of us like to see our beaches, waterways, parks, or roads soiled with someone else’s garbage, yet we all feel the calling to stop and collect whatever rubbish we come across. A basic premise of pedagogy is that, if we make any activity fun, people will engage more with it, turning a bothersome process into an enjoyable one. Plogging—the movement that intersects running and picking up trash—is a vivid representation of said theory.
Ripu Daman Bevli, a former tech engineer and marathoner, quit his job to collect trash while he runs across his home country, India. “I don’t think of myself as an environmentalist or an activist, but just a regular guy trying to live in harmony with Mother Earth,” he says. Ripu has made great strides so far. In 2019, he launched a campaign in which he visited 50 cities, picking up tons of trash as he jogged. “It was to set an example and get locals to join in and take responsibility for their waste. We got massive support in each city and one of the highlights was when schools joined,” he continues. “Habits built at that age will last a lifetime, and kids will grow up to be responsible towards the environment.”
His Plogging feat included embracing a #plasticupvaas commitment, which meant he didn’t eat or consume anything wrapped in single-use plastic during his challenge (which is currently underway). This isn’t the only trend he’s initiated; Ripu’s #trashworkout was adopted by the Indian Government and turned into a national movement. Since 2017, around 10 million compatriots have participated. Attracting the country’s officials’ attention was a great win, but the finish line is nowhere in sight. “I have been working on Run to Make India Litter Free 2.0 where I would be walking/running the length of the country (from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, approximately 2,500 miles), while cleaning up. My mission is to get each of the Indians to be part of the mission to make the country litter-free.”
According to the Central Pollution Control Board of India, 26,000 tonnes of plastic are produced in India—daily—of which 10,000 tonnes are uncollected. Ripu acknowledges his work is important, but the issue requires drastic structural changes. “We talk about beating plastic pollution all the time, but there are two loopholes in it. We are making plastic the villain, whereas the real villain is our habit of using and throwing away. Single-use anything—not just plastic—is bad for the environment.” According to him, this requires building a circular ecosystem, so that everything that’s manufactured can be either reused, recycled, or refurbished to maximize its lifespan, avoiding to overfilled disposal sites (or nature, in the worst of cases).
Global lockdown has taught us to live with fewer things, embrace what’s essential, and be conscious of our impact on the environment as we watch nature bloom while we’re indoors. For Ripu, one of the biggest takeaways is, “living peacefully and happily with fewer means.” He believes this should be a call for governments to “invest more in healthcare and environmental schemes rather than development.”
His words come amidst a great pause that has affected every country in the world. The upside for Ripu is that athletes are still allowed to workout during the quarantine. With fewer consumers out and about, Ripu has more time to jog freely, stopping only occasionally to collect waste that stumbles across the uncongested streets of India.