Indian students gather plastic bags before giving them as fees at the Akshar Forum school in Pamohi on the outskirts of Guwahati. Picture: AFPBIJU BORO
Indian students gather plastic bags before giving them as fees at the Akshar Forum school in Pamohi on the outskirts of Guwahati. Picture: AFPBIJU BORO

Chennai — Armed with bags full of discarded plastic, students at a school in north-east India are hoping to set a precedent by helping the planet — and getting free tuition.

The Akshar Forum school in Pamohi in Assam state in north-east India encourages pupils to bring in at least 20 pieces of plastic waste every week in exchange for free schooling.

For despite a ban on single-use plastic across many Indian states, it continues to be widely used with thousands of tonnes of plastic waste generated daily that is dumped in streets, drains or landfill, according to the Central Pollution Control.

Mazin Mukhtar, school co-founder, said they came up with the idea of collecting plastic waste to turn into eco-bricks to use in construction, which could also help students earn some money and keep them out of manual child labour.

“Initially parents did not comply and thought it was very strange that we were asking for their trash,” Mukhtar said in a telephone interview. “Now everyone sends plastic waste.”

Amarjyoti Kashyat, head of Guwahati-based charity Environ that works on solid waste management, praised the project as a "very positive and unique initiative".

“These are problems created by us and there is no proper system for management of plastic waste. These children are teaching their parents and that is the first step,” he said.

Teenager Prasanta Rangshal carries an extra bag to school every other day, packed with old plastic packets and wrappers.

Before joining the school three years ago, Rangshal, 14, worked in the stone quarries near his home, having dropped out of education at the age of nine to help support his grandmother.

“But now I can do both … and my earnings come from a good cause. I'm saving the earth because when you throw plastic into the land, it doesn't get destroyed and spoils the soil,” he said. 

Thomson Reuters Foundation