Plastic bags are used for so many things that most people think they can never be successfully banned. But a school in the capital has been successfully running an anti-polythene campaign for 10 years now, and has set an example for many other schools to follow.
The signboard outside United School in Satdobato that reads 'polythene-free zone' continues to attract attention from passersby a decade after it was put up. But for the parents, teachers and students of said school, it's routine to be checked for polythene bags at the gate before they are allowed inside.
"The harms of polythene bags were just so many compared to the little effort needed to replace them. And our experience tells us it is only a matter of time before people embrace the habit," says Seema Rai, Principal of the school.
The school's drive against polythene is spearheaded by the students' Eco club, which also carries out tree plantation and cleaning programs regularly. The school's efforts in banning polythene have been so successful that students have started enforcing the 'no polythene rule' elsewhere. "Most of our students have banned polythene by choice also in their homes," Rai confirms.
All new students, parents and teachers are required to participate in a session where they are briefed about the school's anti-polythene policy. Defaulters are fined Rs 500, to be deposited in the School Welfare Fund. In the time the program has been running just two individuals have breached the rule, both of whom were school staff.
"Our objective was to develop environmental awareness among students right from their formative years. In 10 years, 400-500 students have graduated from here. If half of them can continue living without polythene, that's a big achievement," Rai says.
United's success in banning polythene has prompted other schools in Lalitpur to declare polythene-free zones as well. The campaign is not without problems, however. Some goods brought in from outside, including food for students and staff, come ready-wrapped in polythene bags. These are emptied into containers right at the gate so that the polythene does not enter the school. "It is sometimes inconvenient but now we have many shopkeepers, most of whom are parents of our own students, who have stopped dealing in polythene with us," Rai says. A plastic-free future is already a reality for some.