In the Indian state, Assam, has been working for three years a school that, instead of money, takes plastic for recycling.
As a way to make school more accessible and help clean up their local community, this primary school 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, is for each kid to bring at least 25 plastic waste items per week instead of tuition.
The Akshar School, a small school that was started by Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar in June of 2016 in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, straddles the southern boundary of the Himalayas. One of the key moments that led to the recycling focus for Sarma and Mukhtar was 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 to collect waste, including plastics and burn piles during the winter to keep warm, not knowing of the serious health and environmental harm from such a practice.
The couple was 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.
It has been a learning experience and transition for the school. When Sarma and Mukhtar first opened the school most parents sent their kids to work in nearby stone quarries instead of to school where they would make the equivalent of about $2.50 per day.
Through focused curriculum and a passion for teaching and bringing the community together, the founders began to increasingly attract more children to school from 20 when they first started to over 100 now. The founders tackled another common dilemma of affording the school fees by substituting positive impacts on the community as a replacement for fees.
The curriculum focuses on making the students aware of environmental issues and the need to be good stewards of their community. Overall, the community has supported this effort, with many shops and homes spreading the message and encouraging the cleanup of the town.
Children learn a variety of topics aimed at building the skills necessary for job opportunities when they are older, practicing everything from installing solar panels to carpentry to electronics. With the success of the school’s mission and practice, the couple intends to build 100 similar schools in the coming 5 years.