“I am not an environmentalist or a social activist,” says Ripu Daman Bevli, popularly known as the ‘Plogman of India’. With her mission to make India trash free, Bevli, who was born and raised in Delhi, runs various campaigns to achieve her 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.
He is known as the ‘Plogman of India’ and has even appeared in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat. How did your plogging journey start?
In 2016, I started running long distances, and that’s when I saw how in these running events there is a blatant misuse of resources and a lot of plastic pollution. Also, I wanted to make a real difference so that people would stop littering. I introduced the concept of ‘clean up’ to my group of runners and it became the post-workout cool down activity where we jogged and picked up trash. This was in 2017. We combine fitness and running to combat the garbage crisis in the country. And it became the first eco-fitness movement in the country.
Could you explain what plogging involves?
Plogging is a fancy term for cleaning, a Swedish term that combines ‘picking up trash’ and ‘jogging’. My initial goal was “to make cleaning other people’s garbage the best thing to do in India”. After starting the Run and Cleanup movement in 2017, we were looking for an interesting term and towards the end of 2017 we came across this term ‘plogging’, which we adopted to change the name of the movement to Ploggers of India.
What have been your biggest challenges as a plogman?
The biggest challenge we initially faced was changing the mindset of society. Cleaning our streets is despised and rag collectors are called in to do the work ‘kachrewala‘. My first message was: “They are not kachrewala, we are because we throw garbage and we throw garbage. Are safaiwalas. And it should be equally respected as any other profession, be it doctor, scientist, engineer, you, me, etc. “
So we designed Trash Workout, which is a holistic exercise as it improves not only your physical, mental and emotional well-being, but also combats society’s misconception that garbage on the road is not our responsibility.
Participation was low initially, but since we were able to make this activity ‘cool’, the numbers started to rise. Also when I was doing it alone I used to be chased by dogs, monkeys many times and had to run for my life sometimes. 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 garbage collected? How it is handeled?
We focus on collecting mostly plastic, paper, polystyrene, cardboard, thermocol, etc., basically all non-biodegradable waste. After cleaning, we also run a waste segregation workshop to help people realize how they can contribute to recycling. For our large organized campaigns, we have waste collection campaigns carried out by municipal corporations or local recyclers. My belief is that we can never clean our world by cleaning, we will have to stop littering. And find ways to reduce our waste.
Would you agree that while plogging is gaining momentum in the country, there is still a long way to go? Where is the problem?
Our mission is to make India trash free. Plogging is just one of the things to make that dream come true. Over the past four years, about a crore of people have participated and the Government of India embraced our mission. In 2019, I ran a ‘RElan Run to Make India Litter Free’ campaign where I ran and cleaned in 50 cities in 50 days, an unprecedented campaign in the world. We have organized more than 500 cleanings in more than 80 cities across the country in the last four years. Urban and regional communities have appeared everywhere. I have been honored with the title of FIT India Ambassador and as part of that partnership we are looking to create eco clubs in over 700 districts in the next 24 months. It is a long way to go, but we are on the right track.
What are the basic things one should keep in mind when plogging?
Always wear reusable gloves and garbage bags so you don’t add to the trash. Make sure it doesn’t remain a one-time activity. Make the #LitterFree India pledge and start avoiding one single-use item at a time to reduce the waste you generate.
Did the pandemic affect your work in any way?
All of our work is on the ground and that was significantly affected. After the RElan race to make India litter-free, the pandemic and the subsequent shutdown was a major challenge, as many of our activities require a presence on the ground. We had some big plans that we had to postpone. On a personal level, I have been conducting online workshops for children and schools. We created the home version of ‘Trash Workout’ to teach children to share responsibility with their parents, learn a new skill, that is, housework. How many children and adolescents can boast of knowing how to make a broom and mop (jhadu, pocha). We have turned it into a fitness activity for them and they love it. We also did many live sessions called ‘Trash Talk with Plogman of India’ with doctors, Bollywood actors, designers, Emmy-winning presenters and fellow environmentalists from around the world.
In addition, plastic packaging and disposable products have re-entered our lives with force. According to estimates, plastic waste has increased by 50 percent since the start of the pandemic. We need to rebuild better and greener, and the pandemic should not be an excuse to put aside our fight to combat plastic pollution. On World Environment Day, we launched an online petition for Plastic Upvaas asking people to avoid surgical masks so that these non-biodegradable hazardous waste doesn’t end up in landfills and our oceans. Instead, switch to reusable cloth masks, lest we create another crisis for humanity. I have also been writing a book on my mission, which should be published later this year.
Which are your future plans?
We are beginning to consider other facets of sustainability to drive comprehensive change. In August, our next ambitious national ‘Ride for Change’ campaign will be a nationwide zero-emission, zero-waste cycle covering some 7500 km across the country in two months. It will be an unprecedented campaign after the pandemic to boost the socio-environmental impact.
We have been running our ‘Plastic-Upvaas’ campaign for the last few 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 that destroys the planet and our health – plastic single use only. So, it will be a very powerful message for India to convey to the world.
What is your end 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 that one day I would become superfluous when all citizens and governments take responsibility. Sustainability and humanity cannot survive without each other. I hope we learn this crucial lesson soon.