The plastic posse

Every night, artist Gowtham B collects plastic bottles as part of his initiative #walk_for_plastic
Gowtham has collected 25 kg of plastic bottles in 14 days  D Sampathkumar
Gowtham has collected 25 kg of plastic bottles in 14 days  D Sampathkumar

CHENNAI: Dressed in casuals, sporting a black cap, gloves, and armed with sack bags, artist Gowtham B goes around the city picking up plastic bottles. Sometimes he is joined by others. 

Earlier this month, Gowtham decided to take an initiative to make Chennai plastic-free. He started #walk_for_plastic, as part of which he walks two to three kilometres at night, collecting plastic bottles on the sides of different roads, pavements and outside small eateries. In the last 14 days, he has walked for more than 10 hours, covering 36 kilometres and has collected more than 25 kg of plastic bottles.

“Through the #walk_for_plastic campaign, I’m letting people know that plastic can be recycled when disposed of properly. More than two kg of plastic bottles can be found within every two kilometres. If each person collects around 10 bottles during their walk, it will be equivalent to cleaning up a landfill area of more than 1,000 sq ft,” says Gowtham.

The plastic bottles collected are given to a paper mart near his house, which is then passed on to scrap dealers for recycling. “Not many are aware that plastic bottles, milk sachets and biscuit covers can be recycled. When plastic goes in the garbage bins, it is not easy to recycle as it gets crushed and compressed. If people can segregate degradable and non-degradable waste, plastic waste can be reduced,” he says.

Past projects
In 2018, along with his friends, Gowtham volunteered to clean up the Puzhal lake. Earlier this year, to create awareness on the ill-effects of plastic, he made a 23-ft killer whale using plastic bottles and caps. To engage people in a healthy activity for a social cause, the artist came up with this novel idea in June.
He has been collecting plastic for the past one year. For a kilogram of plastic bottles, he gets `15 and a kilogram of plastic covers he gets `8. Through this campaign, he has so far collected `400. He is saving the money to give it to ragpickers in the city to support their livelihood.

People support
Gowtham has received tremendous support for this campaign on social media and people from different walks of life have joined him in his venture. Laan Swick, a volunteer from Thiruvarur, took up the #walk_for_plastic campaign 13 days back. Another volunteer Dr Nisaanthi Ezhumalai joined Gowtham to help him out. Sidharth Guruswamy an engineer from Madhavaram and Sharan from Konnur also clean up plastic in their respective areas. Every day Gowtham goes from Padi bridge till Saravana Store and back, collecting plastic bottles.

While fulfilling his social responsibility, Gowtham noticed that most water bottles are thrown out of moving vehicles, sometimes with water inside them. “The public should know the seriousness of its effect. If one member in a family takes up #walk_for_plastic activity, the other family members will understand the effects of littering and not throw waste on the roads. Awareness starts at home,” he says, adding that if every Chennaiite takes up this challenge, it can make a lot of difference to the environment. “#walk_for_plastic will change the mindset of people. If they take up this activity, we can collectively reduce the amount of plastic in the city,” he shares.

Hope for change
But often, good deeds come with a share of criticism. His social media page has comments calling the activity ‘pitiful’, looking down on Gowtham as a person who goes around collecting plastics. He has lost some followers too. But despite the negative response, the artist believes the #walk_for_plastic campaign will bring about some changes.

As and when more people join the campaign, Gowtham wishes to raise money and build a shelter for ragpickers. “I will not compel people to join the campaign as the will to be part of social activities should come from the heart. An artist should not just communicate through art, but through activism, too. I hope this campaign will send a message to the people that we should try to recycle waste instead of generating waste. Even if I am the only one who has taken up this challenge, I will not rest until I have collected every last piece of plastic,” he says.

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