India’s Garbage Cafe Is Feeding People In Exchange For Plastic Waste

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The Garbage Cafe in the Indian city of Ambikapuris helping the country tackle its plastic waste crisis by offering a meal to anyone in exchange for collected plastics. Opened by the Ambikapur Municipal Corporation, the aim of the initiative is to raise awareness about the scale of the plastic pollution issue and encourage people to take action by collecting any plastic litter that they come across. The concept of bartering food for plastic waste has become hugely popular, leading to plans for more Garbage Cafes to open across India in the future. 

Opened in October last year by the Ambikapur Municipal Corporation, the Garbage Cafe gives people a meal full of nutritious food in exchange for plastic waste. In Ambikapur city, situated in the state of Chhattisgarh, anyone who brings collected plastics can indulge in piping hot and delicious daal, aloo gobi, poppadoms and fragrant rice. When the cafe launched, the state health minister TS Singh Deo paid a visit himself, bringing along half a kilogram of plastic waste to enjoy his meal. The plastic collected at the cafe will go towards road construction, which the Ambikapur city authorities have successfully done before in 2015, building an entire road out of plastic waste. 

“It’s become well-known fast, because it’s located right by the main bus stand in the city. We’re getting about a dozen people coming in every day. One day, a whole family came in with huge sacks weighing about seven kilos,” said Ajay Tirkey, the mayor of the city. 

Read: The global plastic crisis in 10 numbers

The mission of the Garbage Cafe is to raise awareness about the enormous scale of plastic pollution in the region, and the huge problem of unsegregated waste. In India, most cities lack efficient and effective waste management systems, with around only 14,000 out of 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated every day ending up being collected, according to figures by India’s environmental ministry. These staggering figures make India the 15th biggest plastic polluter in the world. 

As demand for plastic grows due to rapid urbanisation and population growth, India’s plastic problem will continue to mount. Despite the fact that the prime minister Narendra Modi has announced that the country is planning to phase out single-use plastics by 2022, the policy stops short of a blanket ban on all disposable plastics. 

In addition, the cafe tackles not just plastic waste but the issue of hunger. Commenting on the Garbage Cafe, the co-founder of plastic pollution non-profit Parvaah Simar Malhotra told the Guardian that the scheme solves waste and “also gives hungry people a hot meal, which in turn motivates [people] to collect more plastic.” 

Read: All the things we’ve learned about plastic pollution in 2019

Thanks to the idea of bartering food for plastic collection, Ambikapur is a model city in India in terms of waste diversion, boasting a 100% door-to-door waste collection and segregation rate; in fact, the city was recently ranked by the government as the second cleanest in India in 2019. The popularity of the concept has spread elsewhere in India, such as the town of Mulugu in Telangana state, where authorities dish out one kilogram of rice in return for plastic waste of the same weight. Inspired by the Garbage Cafe, municipal authorities in New Delhi are now looking to open several of these in the Indian capital in the near future. 

Outside of India, efforts to fight plastic pollution are ramping across all over Asia. Recently, Bali saw 100 trash barrier booms set up along the island’s river in a bid to catch plastic that have been littered in the area. Taking a different approach, Singapore-based impact venture fund Circulate Capital has launched a new Circulate Capital Ocean Fund (CCOF) to help alleviate the net financing gap for plastic waste to be collected and recycled across the five biggest ocean plastic polluters in the world, all situated in Asia, which include China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Lead image courtesy of D For Delhi


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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