IFS Officer Meenakshi C from Kerala introduced new coir pots that would replace the regular plastic packaging used in plantation drives. The regular packaging would usually get discarded after the plantation drive and end up in landfills. This intervention by Meenakshi is now preventing millions of plastic bags from ending up in landfills.
In 2014, a viral video of a dead elephant surfaced on the internet. On autopsy, it was found that the elephant had tons of plastic in its stomach. Such cases are not new anymore. According to a report, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our ocean. Further, every day around 8 million pieces of plastic makes their way into our oceans. However, the challenge remained to bring an option to choose over plastic.
Meenakshi C, an Indian Forest Services Officer posted in Kerala faced a similar challenge when her department held plantation drives that involved giving away free seedlings to the public. When her team got her the sample seedling, she found that it had plastic packaging. Working as the conservator of forest in Kerala in the central district, she was quick to recognize the need for a sans plastic choice.
Meenakshi along with her team started conducting tests on different green options like bamboo, coconut shells, etc. However, every option they explored, somehow damaged the roots of seedlings. A few months into her research, she made a finding that coir pots would act as a perfect alternative to the existing plastic packaging. She discovered that coir properties would suit plantations since the coir containers are shaped like cones and are weightless that enables water retention capacity. The material is neither too thick nor too sheer, which would allow the roots to grow unhindered. Also, since Coir is high in cellulose, it would add to its durability. The best part? If the sapling pots are made out of coir, they would have zero waste and could be planted along with the sapling.
She immediately contacted a maker of coir items in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu who agreed to make a unique coir pot as per the dimensions proposed. Officer Meenakshi conducted the first phase trial to test the plant’s root growth and steadiness by planting 30 species of trees in five hundred sample coir pots. The results were astounding. Following this, a bulk order was placed for ₹3/ per pot with the same seller. Under the leadership of Officer Meenakshi, the Forestry department planted the first-ever coir pot seedlings on 5th June 2020 to mark World Environment Day. As many as 5 lakh seedlings were distributed across 14 districts as part of the plantation drive. There was no damage to the containers during transit, nor were there any damages to the roots while planting them.
Riding on the success of the first trial, Meenakshi now aims to begin the production of coir pots locally. It will not only give stable work to women from self-help groups in Trivandrum but also reduce costs. The agent from Pollachi has been kind enough to share the procedure involved in the production of coir pots. The administration is planning to start training programs by September. Meenakshi is confident that the self-help groups will acquire sufficient expertise to manage the production in 2 years. Offices from different states have shown enthusiasm for the strategy enacted by Meenakshi. In Gujarat, the forest training institute is applying this change to teach the upcoming forest rangers. Departments like Horticulture and Farming are keeping a close eye on the successful completion of the second phase trial. It will enable them to incorporate this model into their programs.
“There has been an exceptional change in people’s mindsets since the plantation drive. Inquiries are showering from schools and companies. More states are trying to replicate this model with locally available raw materials.”, says Meenakshi. Yet, the victory for Meenakshi is in the proactivity of the people to look for alternatives. “Everyone knows plastic is a problem. I think now is the time we look for something which can functionally and economically substitute it. And I am glad we could find one such alternative. As long as we are trying, we have the chance of being successful.”, she adds. Meenakshi’s efforts have prevented more than 30 tons of plastic from going to the landfill.