(November 15, 2023) Imagine being dubbed a ‘Kachra Wala’ while striving to keep your city’s river banks clean. This was something that software developer and environmentalist Vivek Gurav faced. With a deep passion for environmental cleanliness, he weathered the initial backlash and founded Pune Ploggers. His community of volunteers engages in ecological rehabilitation through clean-up drives and plogging (combining jogging with picking up litter), and adopting rivers like Mula-Mutha, Indrayani, and Pawana in Pune for rejuvenation. What began as a modest initiative in Pune has blossomed into a movement spanning 32 cities across India with more than 10,000 volunteers, and has also expanded to the United Kingdom, impressing the prime minister of UK, earning the ‘Points of Light’ award and wide recognition in UK’s media.
Pune Ploggers in the UK
After completing his bachelors in computer science engineering in Pune, Vivek went on to pursue a master’s in environmental policy and management at the University of Bristol in the UK. Undeterred by cold weather and snowfall, he extended his community-benefit efforts in the United Kingdom as well, and gradually got successful in establishing plogging communities in several cities of the UK with thousands of volunteers.
Vivek’s initiatives earned him the Point of Light award from the UK PM, leading to an invitation to 10 Downing Street. He met PM Rishi Sunak who showed immense interest in the youngster’s plogging initiatives. Reflecting on this journey, Vivek remarked in a speech “What made this small campaign transform into a global voice was the intention to make an impact. My purpose didn’t allow me to sleep, and keep my dreams confined to one location. I wanted to expand and reach out to as many youngsters as possible and build a community that would thrive on the simple idea of change making.”
The life changing journey
In 2014, Vivek moved to Pune from a small village of Maharashtra with aspirations to attain something big in life, oblivious of the milestones he would soon achieve in the sphere of community development. “As a village boy the first thing that caught my attention in the big city was the poor condition of Mula-Muttha river. It was filthy and looked like a drainage.” It stinked and the water was black due to the trash that flowed through the heart of the city. Vivek witnessed the same filthy condition of another river that flowed near his engineering college.
“I come from a village where clean rivers flow. We can actually go and drink the clean river water. When I came to Pune I was disappointed to see that rivers of the city in such a polluted state,” said Vivek adding, “People from villages go to cities to study, to build their dreams but the problem in the cities is that people are not mindful enough about their natural resources.” This discovery compelled him start changing the scenario, one step at a time.
In his first year of college, he launched a cleaning drive along the littered river near his campus. To begin with he approached the local municipal council but encountered a blame game between residents and authorities regarding their responsibilities. Frustrated with finger-pointing on each other, he decided to take action on his own. Igniting his inner eco warrior, he started cleaning the river at five am daily, inviting friends to join. Over three months his efforts transformed the once filthy riverside into a clean and popular hangout spot for students. This became a powerful example of an individual initiative and team effort bringing about positive change.
The birth of Pune Ploggers
In 2019, after graduating, Vivek finally transitioned from recognising a problem, working for community around him to launching a city-wide movement—Pune Ploggers. Combining jogging and picking up plastic, a concept originating from Sweden in 2016, the campaign aimed to make a positive impact for the residents of Pune. Volunteers would pick up trash during their morning walk or jog, engaging in a dual purpose – personal fitness and environmental clean-up. “Since our inception in October 2019, Pune Ploggers has evolved into a global community with over 10,000 active participants, spanning four years of dedicated efforts,” Vivek shared.
Movement to the UK – dream come true
Vivek got so steeped into the cause of tackling climate change by managing garbage that he wanted to gain expertise as a climate scientist and environmental policymaker that he thought was crucial for his non-profit’s growing environmental initiatives.
With no funds and limited financial backing, securing a loan also proved difficult as the only asset that the family could project for guarantee against the loan repayment was a small farm land in the village.
As he had been trained as a software developer, his decision to study a master’s in climate science was also met with rejection from several universities, who said he had no prior academic exposure to the subject. However, the University of Bristol finally recognised his achievements beyond his engineering course and offered him a full scholarship. Vivek Gurav left his IT job and seized the opportunity. “Coming from a humble background with no financial support, securing full scholarship was a boon and strengthened my determination to mitigate the impact of garbage and trash on the climate,” he said.
The cause in UK
When Vivek moved to Bristol for his studies in 2021, he went on to establish a plogger community there. “When thousands woke up early on weekends, gathering to pick up trash, their collective positive intentions became a powerful force for better environment,” the Global Indian said.
“Against all odds, I found myself in a foreign land, talking to climate scientists, conducting research, and expanding my knowledge. Last year, I undertook a remarkable journey, traveling to 30 cities in the UK in 30 days, facing challenges like snowfall. This journey expanded the plogging community with thousands of active ploggers in the UK.”
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Chalk of Shame
To reshape mind-sets, Vivek Gurav and Pune Ploggers team has introduced an innovative initiative called ‘Chalk of Shame’. “Using chalk, we circle cigarette butts and other such litter on the streets, and write sarcastic slogans to make people realise their shameful act,” he says. This creative tool became a nationwide phenomenon, garnering millions of views on social media. It not only tackled the litter problem but also fostered creativity and awareness. The Pune Ploggers community has further expanded its focus on solving problems and encouraging values like equality and diversity, allowing like-minded individuals to thrive in generating ideas and solutions that contribute to positive societal change.
Good intentions can bring change
What began as a small initiative in Pune expanded across 32 cities in India and several cities of the UK, with a significant presence in London. Vivek Gurav’s journey, from a small town to studying climate science, exploring UK as a climate activist, and establishing a global task force, stands as a testament to the power of intentions and the transformative impact of a small yet significant issue of litter management with the big goal of averting climate change.
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