A group of street vendors in Kerala are showing us the way to fight against plastic and adopt greener alternatives to protect the environment. By totally avoiding plastic straws, plastic covers, plates and spoons, the street vendors and hawkers of Kovalam and Vizhinjam have launched a movement in making the coastal belts of Thiruvananthapuram plastic-free.
They have completely switched to paper straws, areca bowls, spoons and steel plates to avoid plastic. The movement is being supported by Australia-based NGO Positive Change for Marine Life (PCFML) which has been working to empower the fishing community to protect the sea and also develop solutions to tackle marine debris and pollution.
Izath Rahman, who runs a bakery in Vizhinjam says, “I opened my bakery last year. When the government enforced plastic ban, I struggled to find alternative products to replace the plastic items. But with the help of PCFML, I learned about the alternative products and started using it. For the last six months, I have totally ditched plastic products to protect the environment,” he told “Open Digest.”
Sudarshanan K S, a tender coconut vendor, said he has switched over to paper straws as part of the movement. “It was after Covid-19 pandemic that I switched my business from selling popcorn to tender coconut. People used to litter the place with the plastic straws. I am happy that I could find an alternative to plastic straws. I use over 1,500 paper straws a week,” he said
Like Izath and Sudarshanan, over 62 vendors in Kovalam, Leela beach, Muslim harbour, Vizhinjam and Kottapuram have become part of the movement ‘Leave No Trace’ which was started in 2021.
“So far, we have successfully prevented 505,431 units of single-use plastic from entering the sea, including plastic straws, spoons, thermoform bowls, and birthday knives,” said Krishna Kalidas, Waste to Wealth Manager, PCFML.
Smitha Gnanaolivu, India Team manager, PCFML highlights that the campaign has helped in bringing a positive change in the attitude of the vendors. “Though they were quite apprehensive in the beginning, they have now fully embraced the movement and even started encouraging other vendors to use green alternatives. A school in Vizhinjam has replaced plastic bottles with steel bottles. If everyone in the society starts adopting green alternatives to plastic, the pollution caused due to plastic can be reduced,” Smitha said, adding that they are planning to expand the project by recycling the collected plastic waste into useful products.