Fictional heroes often are at the centre stage taking all the limelight but when it comes to nature, we have a silent hero. The silent hero soil is present in the centre of Earth and is the foundation of life itself. Therefore it becomes important to celebrate the hero not on World Soil Day but throughout the year. To be able to do so, we spoke to Ripu Daman Bevli, the Plogging Ambassador of India, who has worked at the ground level quite literally.
As a Plogger, Ripu Daman Bevli has intertwined fitness with environmental conservation, benefitting physical health and nature. Plogging when broken down means to Plog while jogging, i.e. to pick up litter while on a run. Ripu Daman has seamlessly incorporated this into his life and in the lives of thousands of others. As a part of his ‘Litter Free India Movement’, he has travelled thousands of kilometres with a dream to make India, Swacchh and Sundar. This World Soil Day, we have had the privilege to learn about his experiences and skills from the man himself.
SN: What ignited your passion for conserving the environment?
Ripu Daman: It was the year 2016 when I resumed running after a gap of 4-5 years when I had a major hamstring injury. So I would run in the morning when there are fewer people & no traffic. The thing that I observed most was litter, trash & plastic. So I started picking up litter during my runs. Slowly my friends joined in and it became an eco-fitness movement combining fitness & cleanliness. Then I thought why just my friends, why can’t I get the entire country involved to make India Litter Free? So I started travelling across the country, mobilising people. To date, I have organised cleanups in 110 cities.
SN: Out of the many ill effects of littering, how big of an issue is soil degradation?
Ripu Daman: Littering is not just harmful to the beauty of the surroundings, it is extremely dangerous for soil too. Plastics disintegrate into smaller Microplastics and potentially change the properties of the soil. Thus impacting plant growth and crops.
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In addition, chlorinated plastic like PVC can release harmful chemicals into the soil which can seep into groundwater. Those chemicals can enter the food chain and harm us.
SN: How can individuals contribute to soil conservation in their daily lives?
Ripu Daman: By not littering, every individual can contribute to soil conservation. Almost 70% of the waste we generate as a household is organic. The first thing we can do is compost our waste, thereby diverting this waste away from landfills. The organic waste when mixed with plastic rots in landfills, creating methane and other greenhouse emissions and leachate seeping into groundwater. Planting and conserving trees around us is another great way to conserve soil.
SN: What role do you think government policies play in addressing the perils of littering, soil degradation and conservation?
Ripu Daman: Government policies have a critical role to play. To preserve and grow forest area up to 33% in every state should be a priority. States like Haryana have a forest area of just 2-3%. Another big change needed is the stringent application of Extended Producer Responsibility for plastics. One of the biggest soil polluters is MLP (multi-layered plastics). The policy needs to be addressed to reduce this plastic menace.
Development projects should be given permissions only with environmental clearance i.e. these projects should not cause deforestation or a change in the ecological balance.
SN: How does your activism extend beyond World Soil Day to create lasting change?
Ripu Daman: Over the last 7 years, I have organized close to 700 cleanups in 110 cities. In 2019, the Government of India adopted our mission – Litter Free India. Making it the first such citizen-led movement adopted by the Government. Since then almost 10 million people have participated in the movement. These people have pledged to not litter and thereby, stop creating pollution at the source which has the potential to degrade the soil.
As the Plogging Ambassador of India, I work with various Ministries and state governments and our goal is to make at least one active cleanup community in every district of the country. India has close to 770 districts.
SN: How can education and awareness be improved to highlight the importance of soil health?
Ripu Daman: I believe our education system should include practical environment education from primary school onwards. Students should be encouraged to spend time outdoors, learn about the local flora and fauna, and indulge in cleanups, plantations, treks etc. Projects could include visiting marketplaces and areas to make them plastic-free.
SN: Does plogging help save soil? If yes, how?
Ripu Daman: When you bend down to pick up somebody else’s litter, you will not litter again. From there on, your sustainable journey begins. You start to think about the magnitude of your waste and cut it down. The next step could be to start composting and then build your own terrace garden. All of these steps ensure that the quality of the soil around us remains intact.
SN: Can you share a success story or positive impact from one of your conservation efforts?
Ripu Daman: Our biggest victories have come with kids. One of the first schools we started working in 2018 adopted a local Mandi just outside the school. The place was littered with plastic waste and the stench of rotting vegetable waste mixed.
Once a fortnight, I would take some 50-80 students for a cleanup. Not only would we clean the place, but the students would carry banners about plastic pollution for awareness in both English and Hindi. They would talk to the shopkeepers and consumers alike. 3 months and 6-7 cleanups later when we went there, the shopkeepers had big banners saying ‘We don’t provide polythene bags. Please carry your jhola’. They were happily showing these to the students. The place was clean and we didn’t have to go back to clean it up because the shopkeepers themselves kept the place litter-free.
SN: How do you envision the future of global soil health, and what steps do you believe are crucial for achieving that vision?
Ripu Daman: For the world to tackle the biggest threat of climate change, we need to move away from the polluting meat industry. This means a bigger percentage of the population needs to feed off the soil and that would put a huge burden on agriculture and soil. We need to adopt organic and sustainable farming techniques so that soil health is restored. Another critical resource for survival is groundwater. Soil health plays a critical role in the quantity and quality of this precious resource.
Ripu Daman Bevli’s insights and initiatives serve as a push and a wave of motivation. Through his commitment to plogging, he has exemplified how small individual actions can collectively lead to significant environmental impact. Not limited to World Soil Day, we should aim at taking these small steps in our day-to-day lives.