Used plastic is usually seen as a waste product, but for the students of a school in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, it is no less than a means to acquire free education. As a way to make school more accessible and help clean up their local community, the primary school of Akshar began to accept grocery bags full of plastic waste instead of school fees. Each week school children ages 4 to 15 line up in front of the school with grocery bags full of plastic bottles, packaging, plastic straws, etc. The weekly routine, now widely known throughout the community, requires each kid to bring at least 25 plastic waste items per week instead of tuition.
The school’s founders came up with the recycling idea when their classrooms would fill with toxic fumes from people nearby burning plastic waste to keep warm during the winter. It was commonplace for families there to collect waste, including plastics and to burn piles during the winter to keep warm, not knowing of the serious health and environmental harm from such a practice. The founders were then determined to make both a positive change educationally within the community but also environmentally. They began to encourage their students, many of whom struggled to afford the fees required to attend school, to bring plastic waste as a form of tuition. Overall, the community has supported this effort, with many shops and homes spreading the message and encouraging the cleanup of the town.