Walk into the Aluva railway station in Kerala's Ernakulam district, and one is greeted by a huge wall decorated with potted plants. Take a closer look, and one soon realises that the tiny 'pots' are in fact made of plastic.
For the past two months, the housekeeping staff at the railway station have been converting the used plastic bottles that are thrown away in the station to make colorful vertical gardens on the wall.
Two walls in the hall that houses the ticket counter now have vertical gardens on them. A group of housekeeping staff, under the guidance of Health Inspector Arun, have been engaged in this 'mission'.
On the day TNM visited the railway station, the staff was busy setting up another vertical garden. Arun says that while the idea of reducing plastic waste stemmed from the Swachh Bharat initiative, they took it a step further and come up with a means to upcycle plastic bottles.
The Aluva station is one of the busiest in the state, with an average footfall of about 25,000 a day. Naturally, plastic waste was an issue for the cleaning staff. While the corporation collects all the waste from the station and the plastic is then sent to recycling units, Shantha, a member of the staff, asks, "But there is a limit to sending so much plastic waste every day, right? So we came up with this idea to convert the plastic waste into something pretty and useful."
Shaiji, supervisor of the department, explains how a used plastic bottle lands up in the colorful vertical garden.
"We get nearly 80 plastic bottles every day, from waste bins and from platforms. While we continue to send the waste to the recycling unit, we now collect bottles that are not damaged and use them for making the garden. This way, we are able to upcycle at least a portion of the plastic waste. We cut out the upper portion of the bottle and use the lower portion. We paint them with bright colors, after which we fill it with soil and other natural fertilisers. Once we collected enough bottles and we got plants from the Agriculture Department, we were able to set up the garden,” says Shaiji.
For Shantha, who has been working at the station for the past three years, her next agenda is to find a way to use the upper portions of the bottle.
"I have some ideas about that. We could use two of them and make it in a diamond shape to fill plants in it, or even place them on the ground and do the same. We are yet to get permission for that kind of work. Once that gets done, we would be using an entire plastic bottle for gardening," Shantha says.
Even bigger plans
Two years ago, the station used discarded bottles for gardening purposes, but the initiative died down a few months later. At that time, they used the 'bottled' plants to create a sort of barricade on the railway track, to prevent people from crossing over to the other platform.
However, with the bottles put up on strings, it did not last long. However, the staff is in no mood to give up. In the next few weeks, a net barricade will be placed, on which a similar vertical garden will come up.
Not only will it help Aluva have a ‘green station’, it is also expected to stop people from putting their lives in danger when they jump tracks.