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'Bring your own bag' campaign

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

The excessive consumption of carry bags in Leh city is a major and completely unnecessary source of waste generation. Carry bags, whether of Polypropylene (PP) or paper, turn to waste after just a few uses. But as carry bag is not an essential commodity rather a convenience, the waste generated from it can and should be reduced by telling people about the plastic pollution and paper wastage happening due to it and urging them to bring their own bag every time they go out.

In the last two months, we went around markets in Leh city asking shopkeepers what carry bag they are giving. None of them know they are using plastic. Almost everyone confuses PP for cloth. We told them the carry bags are made of a material called Polypropylene, PP in short, which is one form of plastic, same as used in masks and yogurt containers, and although recyclable, no one in Ladakh is collecting and recycling carry bags. They heard us out but weren't convinced that the carry bags are plastic. We asked the shopkeepers if they could try and cut down the number of bags they were giving out per day because these bags are simply adding to the amount of waste. They said that it is customers who insist on getting a carry bag, at times taking an extra one to buy vegetables in.

We told the shopkeepers we would be beginning a campaign for making customers conscious about bringing their own bag for shopping. Most of the shopkeepers said they would like such a campaign because they would have to spend less on buying carry bags. Some suggested us to get an order issued from the Merchant Association of Leh to shopkeepers for reducing the use of carry bags. That way, every shopkeeper would comply. A few suggested us to lobby with the municipal authorities for a complete prohibition on PP carry bags. There was one shopkeeper who told us that targeting PP carry bag is no use, because so many other things that we use are also plastic. From the interaction with shopkeepers, we realised that to end the culture of carry bags, we have to sensitise shopkeepers just as much as customers. Shopkeepers have to continuously engage in dialogue with customers for which they themselves need to understand the problem fully - natural resources go into production of carry bags, money and fuel is spent in transporting and distributing them, and waste is generated from their disposal. Simply banning carry bags may have little impact. People have to be sufficiently aware why the ban is placed - how it will do them good - then they will follow on their own, otherwise the ban will have to be enforced, monitored and violators penalised, in the absence of which, the ban will become irrelevant. This has happened somewhat with the ban on plastic carry bags in Ladakh. Since the ban did not come hand-in-hand with widespread awareness generation, we find that people do not perceive carry bags as part of the larger problem of resource wastage, plastic pollution and waste creation. People are continuing to use single-use plastics in the form of straws, spoons, plates and carry bags made of PP and paper as if the ban does not exist. If people were first made to understand the problem thoroughly, they would have respected and abided by the ban - an official ban may not even have been necessary.

As part of our campaign to phase out the use of all kinds of carry bags from Leh city, we plan to put up posters in shops bearing the message "Bring your own bag" and in the process of putting up these posters, we would engage in dialogue with shopkeepers and customers explaining the problem of carry bags and the immeasurable good that can happen simply by renouncing them.

Many shopkeepers asked us what the alternative would be to PP and paper carry bags. Honestly, we think there is no need of an alternative if each one carries their own bag to the shop, keeps a spare bag in their vehicles, and sometimes just takes the purchases in their hand. However, knowing that this much change cannot come at once, we started exploring a sustainable alternative to PP and paper carry bags. The obvious option was cloth bags since they can be reused and washed. However, making carry bags out of fresh cloth would again mean resource wastage, hence, we decided on making cloth bags out of leftover fabrics.

Fashion industry is one of the most energy-intensive and polluting in the world. Right from growing, spinning and dyeing fabrics to stitching and maintaining garments, every stage sucks tremendous amounts of resources and leaves huge quantities of waste. Further, dyes, bleaches, solvents and detergents needed for textile production contain chemicals and heavy-metals that are hazardous, even carcinogenic. In Leh city, tailor-made garments are in fairly high demand leading to a prominent presence of tailoring shops and suggesting a substantial textile waste. Within the small Leh main market area alone, there are over a dozen tailors.

We wished to know what happens to the leftover fabrics so we went inquiring in the tailoring shops. Some tailors told us they just throw away the cloths in bins from where municipal workers collect and probably take to Bomb Guard dumpsite. Some told us that prior to the lockdown situation, leftover fabrics were collected by blanket makers whose workshops were located in Skalzangling and/or Choglamsar. One tailor told us that PAGIR, a nonprofit organisation of specially-abled people who make handicrafts out of wasted materials for self-reliance, used to come and collect their leftover fabrics.

After confirming with tailor shops whether we could take their leftover fabrics, we approached the Women's Alliance of Ladakh for partnering since they are the largest and one of the most influential local organisations who were also instrumental in banning plastic carry bags. The President, Ms. Tsering Chondol, got interested in our campaign and at once gave her consent to us to involve her members in it. Next, we approached the 'All Ladakh Women Association' which is the conglomeration of the women's wings of the organisations representing the four main religious communities in Ladakh - Buddhist, Sunni, Shia and Christian - plus the Women's Alliance of Ladakh. The President of the Women's Wing of Anjuam-e-Imamia, representing the Shia community, Ms. Nasreen, arranged the office space of her organisation for us to hold a meeting. There we floated the idea of recovering leftover fabrics from tailor shops for getting cloth bags stitched by members of the women's wings. The bags would be sold in a few shops at first in Leh main market, thereafter in more shops, and finally in other markets of the city. They were happy with the planning, ready to engage their members who can stitch as long as the materials were provided and the finished product was collected.

For the next few weeks we went around collecting leftover fabrics from the tailors and distributing to the offices of the members of All Ladakh Women Association. The tailor shops who provided their fabrics in the first round were Zesgyan Tailor, Happy Tailor, B.K. Tailor, Aslam Tailor, Raja Tailor, Super Tailor, Ladakh Fashion, Aman Tailor, Angmo Tailor. A friend, Mohit Miglani, heading a home furnishing company named The Greige Warp helped us in creating, printing and getting the labels for the bags all the way from Panipat at short notice. We think the labels are important for making the bags stand out among other cloth bags in the market. The first carry bag was stitched by a member of Women's Alliance of Ladakh with leftover fabric used for making traditional costumes for ladies. The bag appears on the poster of our campaign.

First meeting with All Ladakh Women's Wing (Office of Anjuman-e-Imamia, opp. S.N.M Hospital).
Recovering usable fabrics from tailor shop (Zesgyan Tailor, Shaynam Road).
Discussing the making of the bags (Office of Women's Alliance of Ladakh, Chubi).
Stitching of first batch of bags by members of Women's Alliance of Ladakh.
First sample of bag ready!
Campaign poster for awareness generation.

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