“When we march towards a goal, naturally, there are bound to be obstacles. But we have to keep going forward.”
Sounds cliche, but it’s a line that M. Sankaran Moosad, retired from a village panchayat in Kerala, likes to repeat in the conversation. It’s also something that powers his purpose. For many have sneered at Moosad when they see him step out of his home with cloth bags or the time when he nagged everyone at work to switch to steel lunch boxes. But he doesn’t mind it as long as it keeps him on the path and steer clear from the use of plastic.
It wasn’t very long ago that Moosad understood the truly harmful effects of plastic pollution and the all-pervasive presence it has in his daily life. In early 2017, when the Vazhakkad panchayat, a rural outpost where he worked as a senior clerk, picked up a campaign to build a plastic-free village, he endeared himself to the cause. In his words, “If we have to make our village plastic-free, we have to begin from our own homes.”
He began from the kitchen. To eliminate single-use plastic, derived mainly from grocery or vegetable shopping, the 56-year-old took to cloth and paper bags. He would drive down to the sea-side Kozhikode city, around 20 kms from his home in rural Perumanna, and pick up large quantities of these biodegradable bags on wholesale rates. “Nowadays, when I step out, I have two or three of these cloth bags in my hand. I use each one many times until it rips on its own,” says Moosad, who retired in July.
Next, for many of the grocery items that invariably came in plastic wrapping, he found alternatives. For example, he cut down his visits to the supermarket in the city in search for local solutions. To buy coffee, he began depending on the local roasting-grounding centre in the village where he could collect it in paper bags. For things like coconut oil and wholemeal wheat flour (atta), he switched to places where they can be sourced directly, without the interference of plastic wrapping. Similarly, for milk, he ended his subscription to the popular brand Milma and began buying from a neighbouring dairy farmer. On the odd times he would visit the supermarket for masala powders, he made it a point to empty the contents right there into paper bags and dump the plastic into the dust-bin.
“The first time when I did it, the people at the supermarket stared at me. But now, they’ve gotten the hang of it. (laughs). They understand my methods,” he says.
He adds, “It’s not easy to go the extra mile to do these things. But like I said, we’re on a journey (to end plastic consumption) and we have to do this.”
When Moosad thought he had slashed hard at single-use plastic, his wife pointed him to the kitchen where another behemoth challenge lay. He may have bought the groceries and vegetables in cloth and paper bags, but he was still storing them in plastic containers. A major overhaul of the kitchen was in dire need, he realised.
First, he sold off all plastic utensils to the local scrap-dealer and switched completely to stainless steel. He would have preferred glass containers, but then he saw that they still came with plastic caps. Moosad bought dozens of small and big steel containers and labelled them with numbers. He then made a list and stuck it to the back of their kitchen door to help them identify their kitchenware. For example, according to Moosad’s inventory, green-gram was in box no 18, fenugreek in box no 9 and coffee powder in box no 37.
“Today, my kitchen is 100% plastic-free,” Moosad announces happily. “And I couldn’t have done it without my wife. In fact, I would say that if the women in Kerala resolve that their homes should be plastic-free, it can be done easily.”
Moosad’s wife Preethadevi, a work-experience teacher at a local private school, is also an active member of the Kudumbashree self-help group. “In weekly meetings, we come up with ideas. For a recent school competition, we made dozens of pens out of thick craft paper instead of the plastic pens. Each of these pens has a vegetable seed stored at the rear end. Even if you throw the pen away after use, the paper disintegrates and the seed can germinate,” she says.
Along with transforming his home, Moosad also rubbed off his charm at the panchayat office before his retirement. When he saw that disposable paper cups were being used to supply tea at office meetings, he got the panchayat president to sign off on procuring steel glasses and cups instead. He also made his colleagues shift to steel tiffin boxes to carry lunch. “Yes, they laughed at me in the beginning. But I didn’t mind. Today, they understand my perspectives and they respect me.”
Moosad admits that his home may not be 100% plastic-free, but he’s hurtling toward that goal nevertheless. From the lotion in the bathroom to the raincoat and school bag of his younger child to the plastic frames of the photographs of gods in the prayer-room, plastic still lurks to an extent in his home. “Yes, there are a few exceptions, unfortunately. But I can say it’s 95% free,” he says, with a sigh.
Earlier this year, the local arm of the Haritha Kerala Mission of the ruling Left government, that monitors waste management, organic farming and water treatment projects, honoured Moosad for his role in creating awareness about plastic pollution.
“I was so happy to see the Prime Minister ban single-use plastic on October 2. It’s a great step. If the PM or our CM attempts to implement the ban, it’s our moral responsibility to stand with them,” he says.