Tinsukia: The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has come up with yet another way of becoming eco-friendly. This time, its Tinsukia railway division has started converting discarded linens into biodegradable bags, which are then distributed to passengers on board and those on the platform to beat the usage of single-use plastic items.
In a first-of-its-kind initiative, the division has rolled out 150 such biodegradable bags in Kamrup Express made of discarded and old linens, which were otherwise lying idle in the coaching depot of the railways in upper Assam’s Dibrugarh town.
The bags, with the message “say no to single-use plastic” printed on them, are also aimed at creating awareness and discourage use of plastic, particularly single-use plastic items.
According to experts, plastic is harmful because it is ‘non-biodegradable’. “When thrown on land it makes the soil less fertile. When thrown in water it chokes our ponds, rivers and oceans and harms the sea life. … because the bacteria in their stomach cannot break the plastic up into smaller pieces,” said experts.
The project is the brainchild of Ashish Sharma, the divisional railway manager of Tinsukia railway division of NF Railway.
Speaking with EastMojo, Sharma said that the move aims to encourage the passengers to say ‘no’ to single-use plastic and beat the use of such plastic which is hazardous for the environment. “Railways can be instrumental in creating and spreading awareness among masses, as citizens from different parts of the country travel on a single train, and can carry back the message to their respected towns and states,” he added.
When asked, Sharma said the entire world is talking about the urgency to do away with single-use plastic. “It is this when the idea cropped up that why can’t we make bags out of the discarded linens, going as scraps, lying in abundant with railway depots and distribute them among passengers to eliminate use of plastics in the trains besides creating awareness,” he added.
“I decided to rope in NGO’s and members of railway women welfare organization, to convert old linens into bags of various sizes by paying them a minor charge towards tailoring,” Sharma said, adding, it will turn into ‘win-win’ situation for all. “The dead and discarded stock of linens occupying huge space at railway depots will be cleared, railways getting raw material for bags free of cost, NGO’s and members of welfare organizations will get an opportunity to earn and passengers will get a substitute for plastic to hold and discard food and other waste generated during train journey, thereby eliminating or minimizing use of plastics.”
Sharma informed that all linens go to railway coaching depots which maintain laundries. “The good linens are washed and re-used as beddings, whereas the worn out and old linens are thoroughly washed and sent to the tailors to get them stitched into bags,” he said.
Sharma, an Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineer (IRSME) officer, joined railways as a special-class railway apprentice in 1985 at Jamalpur.
“We are aiming to produce and distribute around 500 to 700 bags every day from the abundant stock of discarded linens that are thrown off and introduce the bags in more trains that originate from Tinsukia railway division,” he said.
“To start off we have already distributed 150 such bags,” he added.
Sharma said that they are looking forward to make the bags look more lucrative by dyeing the linens and printing several slogans to spread social messages. “We shall take feedback from passengers and incorporate them to make the initiative become more sound and useful,” he said.
There’s a global battle against single-use plastic, particularly when it comes to the once-ubiquitous plastic bag. A new report from UN Environment and WRI found that at least 127 countries (of 192 reviewed) have adopted some form of legislation to regulate plastic bags as of July 2018. These policies range from outright bans in the Marshall Islands to progressive phase-outs in places like Moldova and Uzbekistan to laws in Romania and Vietnam that incentivise the use of reusable bags.
Yet, despite increasing regulations, plastic pollution remains a massive problem. Every year, about 8 million metric tons of it ends up in the ocean, where it can harm fish and wildlife, and, once it enters the food chain, it threatens human life as well.
Plastic can enter the food chain in many ways; for example, plastic is broken down and ends up in the ocean and marine animals we eat. Bits of plastic have even been found in the waste of people in Europe, Russia and Japan, according to research from a small pilot study. Contamination of water bodies with plastic and its by-products is a major environmental hazard, according to the UN.