March 13, 2021 12:30:22 pm
“I am not an environmentalist or a social activist,” remarks Ripu Daman Bevli, popularly known as the ‘Plogman of India’. With his mission to make India litter-free, Bevli, who was born and brought up in Delhi, runs various campaigns to achieve his goal.
In an email interaction with indianexpress.com, the world record-holder — who left his corporate career three years ago to pursue his dream — decodes plogging, talks about his various initiatives, future plans, and ultimate goal.
You are known as the ‘Plogman of India’ and have even featured on PM Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat. How did your plogging journey begin?
In 2016, I started running long distances, and that’s when I saw how at these running events there is a blatant misuse of resources and a lot of plastic pollution. Also, I wanted to make a real difference in getting people to stop littering. I introduced the concept of ‘cleanup’ to my running group and it became the cool-down activity after training where we would jog and pick up litter. This was 2017. We combined fitness and running to fight the garbage crisis in the country. And it became the country’s first eco-fitness movement.
Could you explain what plogging entails?
Plogging is a fancy term for cleaning up — a Swedish term combining ‘picking up litter’ and ‘jogging’. My initial goal was to ‘make cleaning up other people’s litter the coolest thing to do in India’. After starting the Run and Cleanup movement in 2017, we were looking for a cool term and towards the end of 2017, we came across this term ‘plogging’, which we adopted to rename the movement as Ploggers of India.
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What have been your biggest challenges as a plogman?
The biggest challenge we faced initially was to change the mindset of society. Cleaning up our streets is looked down upon and rag-pickers who do the job are called ‘kachrewala’. My first message was, “They are not kachrewala, we are because we litter and trash. They are safaiwalas. And should be equally respected as every other profession whether a doctor, scientist, engineer, you, me, etc.”
So we devised the Trash Workout, which is a holistic workout as it improves not just your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing but also fights the societal misconception that litter on the road is not our responsibility.
Initially, participation was low, but since we were able to make this activity ‘cool’, the numbers started increasing. Also, when I was doing it alone, I used to get chased by dogs, monkeys many times and had to run for my life, at times. These challenges gave me the conviction that we need to build a strong community across the country.
During your plog runs, what are the common types of waste collected? How is it handled?
We focus on picking up mostly plastic, paper, styrofoam, cardboard, thermocol, etc, basically all non-biodegradable waste. After cleanup, we also do a waste segregation workshop to help people realise how they can contribute to recycling. For our large organised drives, we have waste collection drives by municipal corporations or local recyclers. My belief is that we will never be able to clean up our world by cleaning up, we will have to stop littering. And find ways to cut down our waste.
Would you agree that while plogging is gaining momentum in the country, there is still a long way to go? Where does the problem lie?
Our mission is to make India litter-free. Plogging is just one of the things to make that dream a reality. Over the last four years, close to a crore people have participated and the Government Of India adopted our mission. In 2019, I ran a campaign ‘RElan Run to Make India Litter Free’ where I ran and cleaned up in 50 cities in 50 days, an unprecedented campaign in the world. We have organised over 500 cleanups in 80+ cities across the country in the last four years. City and regional communities have cropped up everywhere. I have been honoured with the title of FIT India Ambassador, and as part of that association, we are looking to create eco-clubs in all 700+ districts in the next 24 months. It’s a long way to go, but we are on the right path.
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What are the basic things one needs to keep in mind while plogging?
Always utilise reusable gloves and trash bags so you don’t add to the litter. Ensure it doesn’t remain a one-time activity. Take the #LitterFree India pledge and start shunning one single-use item at a time to reduce the waste one generates.
Did the pandemic affect your work in any way?
All our work is on the ground, and that was impacted significantly. After the RElan Run to Make India Litter Free, the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown was very challenging as a lot of our activities require a presence on the ground. We had some major plans that had to be postponed. On a personal level, I have been doing online workshops for kids and schools. We created the home version of ‘Trash Workout’ teaching kids to share responsibility with their parents, learn a new skill i.e. household chores. How many kids and teenagers can boast that they know how to do broom and mop (jhadu, pocha). We have made it a fitness activity for them and they love it. We also did a lot of live sessions called ‘Trash Talk with Plogman of India’ with doctors, Bollywood actors, designers, Emmy-winning hosts, fellow environmentalists from across the world.
Also, plastic packaging and disposables have re-entered our lives with a vengeance. As per estimates, plastic waste has increased by 50 percent since the start of the pandemic. We need to build back better and greener, and the pandemic should be no excuse to let go of our fight to beat plastic pollution. On World Environment Day, we launched an online petition for Plastic Upvaas asking people to shun surgical masks so that this hazardous non-biodegradable waste doesn’t end up in the landfills and our oceans. Instead, switch to reusable fabric masks, so we don’t create another crisis for humanity. I have also been writing a book about my mission, which should come out later this year.
What are your future plans?
We are starting to look at various other facets of sustainability to drive a holistic change. This August, our next ambitious nationwide campaign ‘Ride for Change’ will be a zero-emission and zero-waste cycle ride across the country covering some 7500 km across the country in two months. It will be an unprecedented campaign post the pandemic to drive socio-environmental impact.
We have been running our campaign ‘Plastic Upvaas’ for the last couple of years and we intend to take this to a global level where we want to give this message of ‘Plastic-Upvaas’, against this one thing destroying the planet and our health – single-use plastic. So, it’ll be a very powerful message that India gives out to the world.
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What is your ultimate goal?
I am not an environmentalist or a social activist. I am just a simple man trying to live in harmony with Mother Earth. And I wish one day, I will become redundant when every citizen and government takes responsibility. Sustainability and humanity cannot survive without each other. I hope we learn this crucial lesson soon.
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