‘Leafing’ plastic behind in Telangana's Siddipet district

It must be noted that Siddipet MLA Harish Rao has already set up steel banks in Siddipet town and raised awareness on how better it is to use steel utensils compared to their plastic counterparts.
Plates (Friendly Leaf Plates) being prepared of Mothuka leaves by women in different villages of Siddipet district.
Plates (Friendly Leaf Plates) being prepared of Mothuka leaves by women in different villages of Siddipet district.Photo | Express

SANGAREDDY: Despite the thousand-plus initiatives to reduce plastic use and wastage, this semi-synthetic material is an integral part of our lives. From the phones which serve as alarm clocks now, toothbrushes, our favourite fast food snacks or the vehicles we take to reach our workplace, school or college, plastic is present in almost all the things we hold near and dear to us, potentially including one’s favourite human being too. What was once a solution to the storage problem, has become a threat to humankind. However, not all hope is lost. A panchayat official is using a ‘tried-and-tested method’ to ‘eradicate’ plastic in Siddipet district.

Speaking to TNIE, district panchayat officer B Devaki Devi mentions that immaterial of the kind of function — be it government, wedding or even a small birthday party — the biggest winner is plastic pollution. Disposable plates and/or glasses are almost the bedrock of the Indian catering industry, she says, adding that people from towns to villages use plastic items despite knowing how harmful it is to the environment. “No matter how many times government officials or environmentalists make an appeal to the public to reduce plastic use, no one cares,” Devaki opines.

In the face of the mountain that was ignorance and laziness masquerading as resistance to change, the official has resorted to harnessing ‘ancient wisdom’ to reduce dependence on plastic and providing a platform for rural women to make and sell plates made of leaves of Mothukka or Muthukka (also known as phalsa). “Even until 30 years ago, people in villages and towns would eat off of plates made from Mothukka leaves. However, climbing the infinite staircase to ‘development’, people seem to have developed a taste to increase plastic usage,” Devaki says.

However, officials came together and held meetings with village secretaries and different panchayat members to ensure that residents were discouraged from using plastic. MGNREGA workers were roped in to collect Mothukka leaves in the forest areas situated near villages. It must be noted that Siddipet MLA Harish Rao has already set up steel banks in Siddipet town and raised awareness on how better it is to use steel utensils compared to their plastic counterparts.

The first step in this initiative was making the staff members understand the extent of the problem and encourage rural women to make plates out of Mothukka leaves. Official sources said women in 499 villages across the district are part of the movement.

In Chinna Gundavelly village of Siddipet constituency, women-led self-help groups are making paper plates and selling them across the state. DPO Devaki said many people who learned about these plates expressed interest in buying them for Rs 5 to Rs 7 per plate, adding that a person from the Warangal district contacted the SHG to order 25,000 plates.

With a taste of health and the absence of microplastics, the plates made of Mothukka leaves also hold space for childhood nostalgia. Lakshmi and Yellamma from Chinna Gundavelly village said, “When we attended weddings in the village during our childhood and early adulthood, food was served on Mothukka leaf plates. Now, plastic plates are used everywhere,” they added, hoping that the initiative helps them become financially stable.

Devaki says these SHGs can help address a demand in the market for eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to plastic. “It can help many women-led associations increase their revenue,” she mentions, adding that plastic has been ‘banned’ in the area in a bid to reduce pollution.

The DPO points out that during the recent Lok Sabha elections, meals were served to workers and participants using plates made of Mothukka leaves.

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