New Delhi: “I can’t wait and watch. I wanted to do my part to help make a difference. I want all of us to do our part, in our daily lives, to help make a positive impact on our environment,” says Aditya Mukarji , a young environmentalist and one of 17 young climate leaders for the United Nations campaign in India “We The Change”. Unlike an ordinary teenager, Aditya embraced the larger cause of tackling a critical issue facing the world at the age of 13. While in Class 9 at Shri Ram School Aravali, Gurgaon , he had taken up the challenge to replace 50,000 plastic straws with eco-friendly straws by World Environment Day 2018. He also started an internship with the Delhi-based NGO Chintan, as the youngest intern. Thanks to his hard work, he managed to reach his goal before the deadline. Now, four years later, he has continued his efforts to tackle the problem of plastic pollution and waste management. , undeterred Aditya interviews the Banega Swasth India team and discusses their latest initiatives and journey as a young UN climate leader.
NDTV: At the age of 13, you started a battle against plastic straws by replacing them with eco-friendly ones. You’ve helped eliminate around 26 million plastic straws and a few million other single-use plastics. Tell us about your initiative and how it all started?
Aditya Mukarji: It all started very simply in 2018, when I was 14 years old, I was browsing my social media and came across this very disturbing video of a doctor trying to get a plastic straw out of a turtle’s nose. The turtle’s crying and bleeding really touched me and made me feel guilty for human actions, which we take without thinking about the consequences for other life forms. I started reading about plastic pollution and waste disposal issues and that’s when I realized this was a major issue. The oceans and landmasses are littered with plastics and these do not biodegrade. I spoke to my mentor, Mrs. Bharti Chatturvedi from Chintan, who told me about waste management issues and scavengers. It was then that I had the idea to tackle the problem of plastic pollution at the source, that is to say the eradication of single-use plastics in the hospitality industry at its source. She was really supportive of my idea and my effort, which was very simple, to not offer straw at all. And if the customer asks for it, offer them an ecological alternative. It happened with a simple approach – I highlighted the problem, gave them the solution, and told them how it would benefit them. In my opinion, any action or movement must be in line with everyone’s needs and desires.
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NDTV: At the age of 18, you are one of the 17 young climate leaders of the United Nations campaign in India, “We The Change”. How big is that responsibility and how do you plan to lead the climate action movement in India?
Aditya Mukarji: it is a very important responsibility because the UN has made us the face of youth climate action and tasked us with promoting action in India as well as motivating other young people to engage in climate action. climate action. I am personally committed to youth engagement and promoting climate action at the local level. In my view, no social movement or climate action movement can truly succeed unless change is initiated at the grassroots level of society. And that’s where I want to change people’s use and mentality, make them respectful of the environment and reconnect them with their roots and their heritage by taking simple and small gestures. I want to make sure that the climate action movement is not based on mere statistics, but on the quality of the statistics and the changes made on the ground.
NDTV: In July 2020, you launched a “Forests of Hope” campaign – an urban forestry initiative to grow 195 native/fruit trees for children in 195 nations around the world. Tell us about this initiative and its challenges given that there is concern about the success of these planting campaigns to ensure the survival of the trees planted.
Aditya Mukarji: This is a global project – Forest Of Hope – which includes efforts to grow a tree for children and young people in each country, so 195 trees, the main objective being to grow native and fruit trees , as they are the easiest to grow and maintain. Tree planting campaigns should not just plant trees, but should care for and nurture them for the highest possible survival rate. For this I have partnered with various institutions in India and outside to ensure that they are cared for at least for 3 years so that they can have a chance of survival and if the saplings die, they can be replaced with new ones. We have been able to plant more than 45 such forests, or about 9,000 trees. The aim was that as the world rushes to reduce the carbon footprint, we as individuals and organizations must also make a change in our way of life and our local environment and this is done by one simple thing urban forestry for the pure purpose of economic development. . The program is an independent effort to spread the message of a hopeful future to children today. Survival can only happen if you bring back the native species.
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NDTV: How effective do you think tree planting is in terms of the scale of the problems, in terms of emissions and pollution that we face?
Aditya Mukarji: Reforestation can be an effective measure in very rare circumstances, such as maintaining trees and planting native species, and it cannot be done after deforestation and tree felling. Even 100 saplings can never offset a mature tree in terms of reduced carbon emissions. We must stop deforestation and use reforestation together. Municipal and local bodies can easily undertake these planting and cultivation activities because they have the resources to do so, and they can also help raise awareness. Even if people plant a sapling or two in their backyard, it still results in a major change somewhere down the line.
NDTV: You believe in individual social responsibility, and you also say ‘refuse if you can’t reuse, to leave the world a little better than you found it’. What kind of actions do you take in your daily life to stick to this goal?
Aditya Mukarji: I take very simple and small steps like I don’t use single use plastic, I carry my own water bottle when I go out, I carry a metal straw with me in case I go to a coffee. If I go to Starbucks or CCD, I either use their ceramic mugs or use my own travel mug to avoid their plastic cups. If I go shopping, I always take my own jute bag, even if I take an eco bag at the store, I refuse it because it may not be useful to me later. When I went to school, I carried steel tiffins and water bottles, I used bamboo toothbrushes and shampoo bars, and above all, I used public transport whenever possible. The other thing is the separation of waste into seven categories – wet, dry, paper, metal, plastic, e-waste and medical waste. We compost wet colony waste and give my plastic waste to a suitable vendor to ensure it is actually recycled. Even though recycling isn’t the best way, it’s better than ending up in landfills.
NDTV – Dettol has been working for a clean and healthy India since 2014 through the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is led by campaign ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the interconnectedness of humans and the environment, and of humans to each other, with a focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It emphasizes the need to care for and consider the health of everyone in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous peoples, various Indian tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically distant populations, gender and sexual minorities. As a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) is reaffirmed as hand washing is one of the ways to prevent coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same topic while focusing on the importance of nutrition and health care for women and children, the fight against malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health and gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign realized the need to also take care of the health of the ecosystem. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which not only overexploits available resources, but also generates immense pollution due to the use and extraction of these resources. The imbalance has also resulted in an immense loss of biodiversity which has caused one of the greatest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity”. The campaign will continue to cover issues such as air pollution, waste management, plastic bans, manual salvage and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also pursue the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign believes that only a clean Swachh or India where toilets are used and Open Defecation (ODF) status is achieved under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like Diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or a healthy India.