A local solution to fight plastic pollution and child labor
A school in the Indian state of Assam offers the possibility to pay their tuition fees by bringing in plastic waste. The education problem is very acute in the region, where poverty is widespread, as child labor. The issue of plastic waste pollution is also a top priority, given the inefficiencies of the urban waste collection and recovery system.
The initiative is called Plastic for Schooling, supported by the Akshar School Inclusion Foundation and the United Nations Environmental Program UNEP. It addresses both problems: encouraging elementary education and tackling plastic waste pollution. The school encourages children to bring plastic waste from home, but students can also go out and collect it from the street or nature. A small recycling center near the school takes care of the material recovery.
"Twenty to forty empty plastic packages that would have gone to the landfill or burned are pressed into a disposable plastic bottle and turned into solid bricks for simple building projects," the Akshar Foundation explains. School also teaches their students and parents about the harmful effects of plastic. According to Parmita Sarma, one of the school founders, some parents burned plastic to warm their homes. Once the school started educating the community, they were shocked to learn about the risks their children were running.
“Charge them plastic school fees – teach them to be responsible for their surroundings. If every school does this, it can impact the plastic crisis. Students learn to address the problems afflicting their communities, and they develop machines and inventions as part of their coursework to address the problems.” said Mazin Mukhtar, school co-founder, in an interview with Bored Panda.
The problem arising from plastic waste pollution is alarming in the country. India produces fifteen million tons of plastic waste each year and recycles only a quarter of it. Many packaging and single-use products end up in landfills. There have been attempts by the central government to increase regulation of single-use plastic products, but pressure from the industry has stalled the plans.
It is important to remember that while the initiative shows some hope, the responsibility for cleaning up the environment cannot be placed on poor children. The industry and the government should work together to create a better recycling system, starting from logistics and industrial infrastructure.