A dramatic act of protest reminds companies to take responsibility for the wasteful packaging they produce.
Each morning this week I've passed a sign nailed to a telephone pole that says, "The problem with litter is YOU!" This sign irritates me because I think it's dead wrong. While people need to be respectful of their surroundings and not throw garbage away willy-nilly, they are not the problem here. They are victims of a system that is designed to fail. When almost every single thing we buy comes with excessive, non-biodegradable, or hard-to-recycle packaging, it's absurd to expect people not to generate any litter, ever.
A much better approach, as we've argued before on TreeHugger, is to target the manufacturers of the goods we buy, demanding that they take responsibility for the full life-cycle of their packaging, preferably through collection for reuse. But how does one push companies to do such a thing?
A group of school girls from the Indian city of Toothukudi in Tamil Nadu has tackled this issue in an interesting and innovative way. Prompted by city council, students at Subbiah Vidyalayam Girls Higher Secondary School collected all food wrappers that they generated during a two-week period. This amounted to 20,244 wrappers, with just over 10,000 attributed to food manufacturer Britannia and another 3,412 to wafer-maker Nabati. The girls mailed the wrappers to the companies, with the following letter:
“We are happy with the taste and quality of your products, but unhappy with the plastic packaging. We want to ensure a safe environment for our future generations and minimise our plastic footprint. We have decided to collect used plastic wrappers of your products and send them to you for safe disposal. Please help us savour your products without guilt, by introducing eco-friendly packaging.”
Accompanying the wrappers was an explanation from the city commissioner, Alby John Varghese, who told the companies that they are "wholly responsible" for collecting plastic waste generated by their products and that the city corporation "expects these companies to come up with an action plan for collecting used wrappers that can be implemented in two months." (via The Better India)
Varghese told the Times of India that the experiment was a great success and that he hopes to extend it to other schools throughout the region. No response from the companies has been reported yet.
Getting kids involved in this way is a clever idea. Inspire younger generations with a desire for change and they'll forge ahead with a determination that rivals older adults, who may be less idealistic. The more pressure that is placed on companies to handle their own waste, as opposed to consumers, the sooner we'll see deposit schemes and bulk stores that allow reusable containers appearing in our cities.
This waste-collection project will affect the students' own longterm lifestyle habits, making them more aware of the amount of packaging they consume and, hopefully, inclined to opt for unpackaged alternatives. At the very least they will talk to their families and influence wider-reaching habit shifts.
To any teachers out there, why not make this a classroom or school-wide initiative? If you do it, check back in and let us know how it goes. It could make a good follow-up story!