"Why Plastic film-wrapped cooked food, when we Indians are privileged with steel and reusable dabbas?" says climate activist and entrepreneur Neelima Mishra. As someone who has travelled right up to the arctic for climate change expeditions, Neelima Mishra sure does have a plethora of experience drawing from her climate change journey.
Having started her social enterprise Ceiba Green Solutions to do good for the earth through her contribution, she is also working with the State Government of Odisha to create awareness and action around resources, waste management and more. By encouraging local and sub-local women-led organisations, co-operatives and campaigns, she also champions gender-inclusive climate action as she believes including everyone in this fight is certainly the way forward to bring change.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Neelima Mishra talks about her experience as a climate activist, the current challenges India faces, and why it's crucial to understand climate change is real and that we must deal with it urgently.
How did you get involved in climate activism? Share about your journey a little.
In June 2019, I was a part of the Climate Force Arctic Expedition, 2019, organised by the 2041 Foundation. I observed plastic bottles, fishing nets, cigarette lighters and other such waste at the high reaches of the planet.
Post my experiences in the Arctic, when I returned to Odisha, I was exposed to the perils of the waste-pickers, usually children, who rummaged through the trash, the animals who fed on the litter and the degrading quality of the landscape, my city Bhubaneswar once took pride in.
To take action on the burgeoning waste problem, I registered Ceiba Green Solutions in 2019, as a social enterprise focusing on solid waste management, especially household composting, waste education, organising waste-free events and promoting plastic-free alternatives to everyday products.
What difficulties do you face with government officials when you try to make them understand waste and resource management?
Though Swachh Bharat Abhiyan was launched in 2014 to achieve the vision of a 'Clean India' by 2019, the focus was more on sanitation coverage and practices. It is only in the 2nd phase of the Mission that the focus has been on sensitisation, waste segregation and decentralised processing.
I still face issues convincing government officials to organise waste-free events, however, the trend is changing and I see many aware officials wanting to handle their waste in situ (or on their premises).
Plastics have been in the news lately for being a major source of pollution. How does banning single-use plastic make a dent in the bigger problem of climate change?
Apart from how plastics are derived from fossil fuels, the extraction, transportation and manufacturing of plastics results in GHGs. Also, due to a lack of infrastructure, and poor recycling percentage, many developing countries incinerate plastic waste or send it to landfills causing air pollution and emissions. Much of this waste is also transported from rich nations to be taken care of by developing nations. Marine pollution and microplastics are also other issues.
What types of plastics are worse than others?
Single-use plastics are the worst because they cannot be recycled and our consumption just fuels the demand eg: sachets, flimsy polythene bags etc.
When we ban plastic, doesn’t that force us to use other materials that are more expensive and energy-intensive? Can we keep using it, but get better at recycling it?
If one knows the history of plastics, one will understand that it was invented to find an alternative to natural ivory, because billiards had put a strain on the supply of ivory which was obtained from wild elephants. Thus, natural substances like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory were less used with the invention of synthetic plastic.
My opinion is that not all plastics are evil, it is the way we use and dispose of them that makes them evil. Plastics have immense use in today’s age be it modern medicines, automobiles, aircraft, telecommunication and others. However, we have to refuse single-use plastics, reduce our consumption and recycle better to get out of the plastic menace.
We must refuse single-use plastics, reduce our consumption and recycle better to get out of the plastic menace.
How can we get the conversation on climate change rolling as a priority across education systems in our country?
Having gone through my niece’s textbooks, I observed that there has been quite an awareness of plastics, waste and composting at an early age. However, these are limited to textbooks only with no practical exposure and no on-the-ground understanding of these basic things. Thus, the conversation around climate change must start early, at homes, at schools, and in residential societies because it is urgent.
Having gone through my niece’s textbooks, I observed that there has been quite an awareness of plastics, waste and composting at an early age. However, these are limited to textbooks only with no practical exposure and no on-the-ground understanding of these basic things.
From when you started working in this space to now, what factors have impacted your growth as a leader and an activist?
My education, be it a master’s from the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal or most recently, an M.Phil Environmental Policy from the University of Cambridge through a Chevening scholarship has helped me grow as an individual and as a leader. I would also like to give credit to the grounding, and support of family/friends and the various volunteering activities that led me to get interested in natural resources and sustainability.
What advice would you give other young women who want to work for climate justice like you are doing as part of the Women Climate Collective?
Focus on your actions and the results will follow. We definitely need more people and especially women working on various areas of ">climate change be it glaciology, marine biology, meteorology, advocacy and others.
Suggested reading: The Earth Is Very Close To Tipping Point: Scientist Minal Pathak