#ChalkOfShame: A unique plogging campaign raises awareness of the effects of cigarette butts and tobacco waste
‘Smoking kills you, Littering kills the planet!’ and ‘What a drag’ – such messages have become commonplace on Pune’s roads, thanks to ‘#ChalkOfShame’, an initiative by Puneri Ploggers, which aims to draw attention and awareness to the growing problem of cigarette butts and tobacco waste in the city.
Sidewalks and sidewalks are full of such messages and slogans in English, Marathi and Hindi, written around circles made of colored chalks.
According to reports, cigarette butts have toxic chemicals – such as arsenic and lead – which can contaminate water. Toxic exposure also harms fish, as well as land animals, which may end up swallowing them.
“Now that had a pinch of Puneri sarcasm in it. The slogans we write to spread our messages are quite similar to the sarcastic ‘Puneri Patya’ – the message boards that people in Punekar put up everywhere to get a message across,” said Vivek Gurav, Founder of Puneri Ploggers, a community focused on cleanliness that began in September 2014. Gurav worked as a technician at a software company for four years before deciding to quit his job to become a “full-time environmentalist.”
Plogging, a combination of jogging and litter picking, started in Sweden in 2016 and spread to other countries in the following years.
“In a year of my plogging experience, the majority of the trash we collected was plastic. But the real problem was those cigarette butts that looked very small but extremely harmful to nature. Over 100,000 cigarette butts cigarettes were collected in a year,” recalls Gurav, who is currently on a fully paid scholarship from the University of Bristol, UK, to study climate science.
“Instead of picking them up, we planned to talk about this issue,” he said.
The campaign, which began in October 2021, involves approximately 80-100 volunteers participating over the weekend in which the team:
* Spot cigarette butts on the road
* Draw colored circles around them.
* Draw creative artwork on the trail
* Write messages and slogans.
“We call it #ChalkOfShame because it’s an awareness and shame campaign for smokers who irresponsibly litter cigarette butts. We don’t want to comment on anyone’s personal choices, but if it harms the he environment is an issue that we will highlight. Smoking may be a personal choice, but not littering!” said Gurav, adding that the initiative recently completed its 50th #ChalkofShame activity and 238 Plogging Drives.
The initiative has several components approach. “He uses eco-friendly chalk. It’s a silent way to protest the acts of negligent citizens, and the oblivious government doesn’t punish smokers who smoke and litter in public places. It is also a way of promoting the artistic instinct of volunteers which has made this campaign popular as people feel engaged and enthusiastic while raising awareness,” said Gurav, 26, who moved to Pune in 2014 for his baccalaureate.
It was then that he realized that the rivers, in particular, were polluted. “After many interactions with my friends and young people in the city, I felt that government action alone would not solve the problem. Instead of blaming the authorities, if citizens are defending their rights, in this case their right to have clean air, to breathe, to clean water and a sustainable environment for their future generations, it is not only then will man-made problems be solved. Pune Ploggers was one of those individual attempts at my personal jogging routine that was converted into plogging. After a successful 30DaysPloggingChallenge that I took on personally, I found lots of friends who liked the idea and then joined me in this daily activity. Now it has turned into a national community initiative for sustainability,” Gurav said.
But has there been any tangible impact of the all india initiative which is also active in cities like Mumbai, Nagpur, Nashik, Aurangabad, Patiala, Kanpur, Moradabad, Kolkata, Delhi and Odisha? “We have seen cigarette stall owners act proactively and ask customers to use the bins. Since it’s a real-time campaign, when we’re there, they make an effort to reach for the trash can and throw away the cigarette butts. They understand the campaign, smile and act right away. It’s fun to see them go the extra mile,” he said.
The community also has an ongoing anti-spitting campaign against gutka and/or tobacco spitting which also involves drawing circles around these hot spots. “While we started this as a countryside to talk about cigarette butts, the Covid pandemic has allowed us to explore multiple avenues. We started an anti-spitting campaign, which expanded to one against tobacco spitting,” Gurav said, adding that the goal is to “continue to innovate the campaign for next year.”
But their success has not come without obstacles. “We received strange comments about volunteers and were shamed upside down for using chalk and vandalizing public property. But this is not a form of vandalism as the chalk art only stays for a few hours. Also pandemic added to our difficulties since these cigarette butts can constitute a source of infection for the volunteers. However, we never stopped and it’s been a constant year of weekends,” Gurav said.
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