Close to a 1,000 people turned up at Bongaigaon town’s Gandhi Maidan on Tuesday to be the first to trade a kilo of plastic for a sapling and a cloth bag. A 70-year-old woman beat them all to make an ecological statement.Bongaigaon, the headquarters of Bongaigaon district, is about 180 km west of Guwahati.Renuka Roy Choudhury had a reason to be the first to deposit the plastic from her house in a plastic bank set up by the Bongaigaon Municipal Board — to send a message that the older generations have to take the lead in undoing the damage done to the environment.“We have enough saplings in the Social Forestry nurseries, but brought 200 for the ‘plants-for-plastic’ exchange programme. The overwhelming response made us realise we brought too few,” the district’s Deputy Commissioner Adil Khan said.Ms. Choudhury and the 199 others were given saplings of gooseberry, olive, mango, jackfruit, mahogany and other local species of trees for a total of 200 kilos of plastic deposited. Each of them also received a cloth bag manufactured by local women’s self-help groups.Each of these bags can withstand more than 2 kg of weight.Mr. Khan said those who missed out on a sapling on Tuesday would be provided with one later. “We will continue with the programme till the town is free of single-use plastic. The plastic bank will be open at the Municipal Board’s office for anyone to deposit a kilo of plastic and get a sapling in return,” he said.Banana barkThe Social Forestry wing of the Assam Forest Department pitched in with innovation too. Officials replaced black polythene bags with the bark of banana plants for holding the saplings. These were tied with jute threads.The district administration had, ahead of the ‘plants for plastic’ drive, discussed an alternative to the polythene sapling bags with Divisional Forest Officer Abdel Salam Arief. Forester Lakhi Nath came up with the banana bark idea.The Bongaigaon district administration said the drive would perhaps not have been possible without the involvement of a green group called Robin Hood Army. Its volunteers facilitated the exchange programme.
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