There’s a certain pride in flicking that cigarette butt, or that’s what it seems like. The tiny butt often lands on sidewalks and streets, without most people paying heed to it. But is it as harmless as we think?
The answer is a big NO. Statistics show that smokers around the world buy a staggering 6.5 trillion cigarettes every year, which translates into 18 billion every single day. Most of the cigarette disintegrates after use, but the butt which is casually thrown out of the car window or dumped on the sidewalk causes unimaginable harm.
The primary material used to make cigarette filters is cellulose acetate, a kind of plastic that breaks down into microplastic. When proper disposal of cigarettes does not happen, these filters add to environmental pollution. Moreover, they take up to 10 years to degrade!
To make people understand the gravity of the issue, a group of young people from Pune, called the ‘Pune Ploggers’ decided to launch a campaign, ‘Chalk of Shame’.
As part of this initiative, the group did not collect any cigarette butts; instead, they began to draw circles around these tiny butts using chalk.
“In the last one year, we have collected 100 cigarette butts. In fact, last year on Diwali, we decided to draw circles around littered cigarette butts, instead of making a rangoli. It’s not that we want to shame people for smoking; it is their personal choice. But they can’t litter the environment. It is irresponsible to throw cigarette butts in the open, because it harms the environment. With this campaign, we want smokers to be more cautious, and responsible for their actions,” says Vivek Gurav, the 25-year-old founder of Pune Ploggers.
Plogging is all about combining jogging with collecting litter piles in public spots. It was first started in Sweden by Erik Ahlström in 2016, after he saw trash littered around on his work commute. His concern grew, when he saw the pile lying at the same spot for weeks, without anyone taking action. That’s when he decided to take the matter in his own hands, and started plogging.
Soon after, the trend caught on all over the world, inspiring many others to take up this eco-friendly exercise.
“I belong to Kolhapur and moved to Pune to pursue my higher education. It was when I shifted here that I noticed how polluted the city was. After speaking with my friends, I realised it’s not just government action that is going to help the cause; citizens also need to do something about this. After a successful 30-day plogging challenge that I personally took up, a lot of my friends showed keen interest, and that’s how it all began. It has now transformed into a nationwide community-led initiative for sustainability,” explains Gurav.
On these drives, Pune Ploggers would often find cigarette butts. This isn’t a new phenomenon, because ploggers all over the world have reported cigarette butts lying around in public places.
Partnering with different stakeholders
To begin with, Gurav and his group roped in tapri owners for the ‘Chalk of Shame’ campaign, because smokers generally flick cigarette butts after enjoying a puff with their cup of chai. Several stall owners responded positively, and were happy to be a part of the initiative.
But it is the youth that has been steering this campaign, believes Gurav.
“A lot of young people have started joining us on our ‘chalktivism drives’. It was only when more than 100 of them joined us did we realise the impact of this initiative,” he adds.
The success of the campaign has also invited sponsorships from private companies, who are willing to install cigarette butt disposal bins across Pune. Some of them have even approached Gurav to take up the responsibility of recycling.
“Most experiences have been positive, except for one. There was an instance when our volunteers were shamed, and our campaign was accused of spreading vandalism. We feel our actions and intentions make it a pro-public initiative,” says Gurav.
The ‘Chalk of Shame’ campaign has also received massive support from local government authorities in Pune.
The way forward
Today, there are 4,000 ploggers across India, who are associated with Pune Ploggers. The group has also successfully completed 160 plogging drives.
“There are several plogging communities in Mumbai, Nagpur, Delhi, Patiala, Chennai and Goa that are associated with us. Today, we are the largest plogging community in the world, who has been consistently organising drives, since October 2019,” adds Gurav.
To their credit, Pune Ploggers have collected 120 tonnes of plastic waste, and sent it forward for proper recycling or disposal.
There have been many more milestones, including the Mega Ploggathon 2020 that witnessed the participation of one lakh Pune residents, who collected 30,000 kilograms of trash in an hour.
But Gurav feels there’s a lot more to be done in the future.
“There’s another issue that we have observed, and it is that of people chewing tobacco and spitting it out. It is a huge problem, which we are planning to address through our upcoming initiative,” says Gurav.
He also plans to introduce a district-wise chapter of the plogging community across India.
“We have already started this practice in major cities, but our mission now is to reach the grassroot green warriors, who are working on ground, and are in need of established platforms to amplify their voices,” says Gurav, signing off.