Young & concerned

By Prasanta Phukon

Plastic waste has turned into a major problem around the world and its management has gained paramount importance not only in environmental studies but also in policymaking. However, policymakers in this part of the country are yet to wake up to the imminent threat and prioritise the issue in their agenda.
In this time of crisis, a group of youths from two states in the North East, Assam and Meghalaya, has taken up the gauntlet to save the degrading environment in the region.
The Save Northeast campaign started in Guwahati on March 18 this year and is gaining momentum fast. The members of the campaign, mostly college and university students, are not only cleaning up our mess but are also making people aware of the dangers of plastic littering and its adverse effects on the environment here.
The use of non-degradable plastic has increased tremendously in this region and this trend has already started to make its impact felt. Lack of proper waste management and ignorance and reluctance of people are adding to the already grave problem. Waterbodies in almost every state in the region have been affected by plastic waste and aquatic life has been threatened. It has also directly or indirectly belied the authenticity of eco-tourism in the region, which is known for its pristine natural beauty.
Also, plastic waste is reducing the fertility of soil and halting reabsorption of groundwater leading to long-term consequences like barrenness and depletion of groundwater level.
The campaign started in a small scale in Guwahati. A group of 15 students from Guwahati would clean the city’s streets, parks and other public places. “For example, Gandhi Mandap is a popular place and hundreds of people visit there. The amount of plastic waste is huge and it has been affecting the biodiversity and various life forms in the area. So we would go there and clean,” said Pritam Das, one of the founders of #savenortheast campaign.
On the first day, the students collected about 1-2 tonne of plastic and other waste products. Almost 15 trash bags of liquor and medicine bottles were collected from Gandhi Mandap.
S Laxmi Sharma, one of the founders of the campaign, said initially it was difficult for the few members to cover more areas on a regular basis. So the cleaning drives would be on weekends.
In the beginning, the students also faced several problems like segregation of the collected waste products and in determining recyclable, non-recyclable and biodegradable waste.
The determined youths reached out to people through social media like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. They got in touch with several participants like Akash Harizan of Wildlife of Africa Conservation, Ditee Moni Baruah, assistant professor of History at Arya Vithyapeeth College in Guwahati, Dr P Das in Silchar, students of NEIGRIHMS (Shillong), Arya Vidyapeeth College, Cotton College (Guwahati), Barak Valley, North Lakhimpur and other stakeholders in the northeast region who were working on similar social and environmental issues.
Help also arrived from the representatives of Radio Mirchi, Shillong, when cleaning drive was carried out in the vast areas of Golflink.
All these helped in the expansion of the campaign. The members are now getting requests from other states and they are “planning to collaborate with more environmentalists”, said Saurav Nath, another founding member of #savenortheast campaign.
“But most of us are just students and financial problem remains a hurdle,” Habung Tatung, a founding member, said.
Another member, Sayan Das, said the campaign needs support from citizens. “The aim of this campaign is entirely focused on inspiring the youth to realise about today’s environmental issues and educate them about the unknown dangers we all face in the near future. It also focuses on urging the public to adopt greener means whenever and wherever possible and minimise the excessive use of plastic products,” added Pritam.
Among other members are Pran Bora, Raghav Bora, Akshay Upadhyay, Paremba Sagapam, Hritik Bora, Nangphe Chakhap, Abhijit Bora, Rohit Das, Badal Prasad, Bishal Ghosh, Neel Roy, Khanjan Tamuli, Bitupan Bharali, Bhairav Gogoi and Hrishiraj Baruah.

(You can follow #savenortheast on Facebook and Instagram)

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