Mumbai: To do away with thermocol, Kolis fish for eco-friendly options

Sep 08, 2018, 09:00 IST | Arita Sarkar

Members of community approach BMC, Fisheries Department, asking them to provide fibre plastic cartons that are not only friendly to the environment, but also last longer

Mumbai: To do away with thermocol, Kolis fish for eco-friendly options
(From left) Shilpa Koli, Pramila Worlikar, Paru Chandu and Parvati Koli show the thermocol and plastic containers they’re currently using to store their catch

While restaurants and shops have done away with the use of plastic in their daily affairs, members of the Koli community are fishing for a more long-lasting and eco-friendly option to store the seafood they sell at local markets.

Instead of using polystyrene aka thermocol containers, fishermen are trying to convince various government agencies, including the Fisheries Department and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), to provide them with fibre plastic cartons that are not only friendly to the environment, but also last much longer than the thermocol ones.

Every fisherwoman has two of such thermocol containers that last only for about a month. Pics/Ashish Raje
Every fisherwoman has two of such thermocol containers that last only for about a month. Pics/Ashish Raje

Asking for an alternative
Last week, on behalf of 140 fisherwomen in Worli, Pramila Worlikar approached the Fisheries Department to ask for an alternative. In response, the department offered to provide them with cartons made of natural fibre plastic, which cost around Rs 3,500, and can easily last for 10-11 years. Community members said that in addition to being environment-friendly, fibre cartons last longer and can carry up to 20 kg of fish, while the thermocol variant can only carry 10-15 kg.

Fisherwomen began looking for this alternative after there was confusion over which plastics are covered under the ban that came into effect from June 23. As per the norms issued by the state government, thermocol used for decorations is banned, while that used for packaging is permitted.

Worlikar, however, claimed that officials from civic body visit the market and fine them R5,000 for the use of thermocol cartons. "We don't want to use materials that harm the environment either, but the plastic bags they ask us to use are too expensive," she said. Worlikar pointed out that each plastic bag costs them R5 and every fisherwoman ends up shelling out Rs 200-300 for a bunch of them, since customers won't carry seafood wrapped in paper. "We earn around Rs 500 per day. What do we have left if we end up spending most of it buying plastic bags?" she said.

Thermocol cartons are not even financially viable. Every fisherwoman has two of them, and each lasts only for about a month, after which they have to purchase another
one for Rs 250-300.

Samruddhi Patil, licensing officer at the fishing licence department, said they're trying to find the most economical option, "We're trying to figure out how many fisherwomen need the cartons and what the appropriate dimensions need to be. Accordingly, we'll give the consignment to a firm. We've also asked the members of the fishing community to negotiate and find a company on their own."

Patil said they can provide the fibre cartons if the fisherfolk share the cost with them. "They'd submitted a list of fisherwomen. But we found that some of them were not sitting at the market. We'll visit the market to verify the list and then give them [the cartons]," she said. Fishermen residing in Madh island had put in a similar request to the civic body after the plastic ban was introduced.

Only a matter of time
Around the time the plastic ban was announced, discussions were taken up with the state government as well by Ramdas Sandhe, chairperson of the Maharashtra Rajya Machimar Sangh. He said, "It is only a matter of time before other types of plastics will also be banned. In our discussion with the ministers, we've told them they should ban plastic, but only after providing an alternative to it since our livelihood depends on it.

The women who sell the fish are too poor and cannot afford to purchase such expensive fibre cartons. The government should provide it to them." Sandhe added that more than 25,000 women from the Koli community sell fish in various local markets to support their families.

Also Read: Mumbai Guide: Documenting The Koli Community

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