India school demands plastic waste as fees

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In this photo taken on May 20, 2019, Indian students walk in line holding plastic bags to submit them as school fees at the Akshar Forum school in Pamohi on the outskirts of Guwahati. AFP

DISPUR, India (AFP) – One school in northeast India has taken a novel approach to addressing the scourge of plastic waste by making its collection a condition of free attendance.

Every week the 110 pupils at the Akshar Forum school outside Dispur in Assam state must bring up to 20 items of plastic gathered from their homes and the local area.

“The use of plastics is rampant across Assam,” said Parmita Sarma, who set up the project together with her New Yorker husband Mazin Mukhtar.

Until last year schooling was completely without charge, but the school decided to introduce the plastic “fee” after a plea to parents to take part in a recycling scheme fell on deaf ears, Mukhtar told AFP.

“We tell (the parents) to send the plastics to the school as fees if you want your children to study here for free.”

In addition, the parents have to make a “pledge” not to burn plastics, said Sarma.

Awareness

The fact that the children now go from home to home asking for plastics has also increased awareness in the local area.

According to local non-governmental organisation Environ, Dispur alone — home to just under a million people — produces 37 tonnes of waste rubbish daily, a seven-fold rise over 14 years.

“Earlier, we used to burn the plastics and we had no idea that the gas emitted from that was harmful to our health and environment,” said Menu Bora, the mother of one pupil.

“We also threw these away in the neighbourhood. But that would never happen again… This is a good step initiated by the school.”

After collection, the school makes good use of the plastic waste.

Pupils stuff plastic bags inside plastic bottles to make “eco bricks” which can then be used to construct new school buildings, toilet buildings or pathways.

The students are also paid to do this, something which dovetails with another aim of the school: getting children out of the local stone quarries and into education.

“The parents of most of our school students cannot afford to send them to school,” Mukhtar said. “It was tough but we have motivated them and brought them back to the school.”

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