Patrons to a new cafe in Ambikapur, a city in Chhattisgarh, India, can leave their wallets at home. If they want a plate of food, all they have to do is bring in some plastic trash, according to the India Times.
One kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of plastic garbage pays for a full meal, while 500 grams (a little over 1 pound) fetches a big breakfast.
This unusual payment scheme is the whole purpose of India’s first "garbage cafe." With funding from the local government, the cafe will recycle the plastic waste and use part of it to build roads in the area.
The government created the cafe, situated at the city’s main bus stand, as part of a larger cleanliness initiative, which aims to reduce plastic waste and improve city infrastructure. Other efforts include restricting the sale of plastic bags.
The cafe’s operators hope that it will spur people in the community to clean up the streets, while also reducing hunger. In the future, the government wants to create more garbage cafes, and expand the concept to include a homeless shelter that people can stay in after collecting plastic waste.
Using plastic waste as currency is becoming a popular concept around the world to both combat plastic pollution and poverty.
Throughout Haiti, local entrepreneurs can make far more than the average income in the country by collecting and recycling plastic waste through the world’s first plastic bank. In Lagos, Nigeria, parents can pay for their kids school fees with plastic. And in Istanbul, Turkey, commuters can get subway tickets by depositing plastic bottles.
In addition to efforts that increase recycling rates, governments are also seeking to restrict plastic production to prevent pollution in the first place.
More than 60 countries have restricted plastic production in recent years in response to the growing environmental crisis of plastic pollution. The vast majority of plastic either goes to landfills or contaminates land and marine environments, where it causes extensive harm to wildlife. Plastic waste also breaks down into microplastics that contain hazardous substances and get ingested by humans on a daily basis.
Turning plastic waste into a material for paving roads has been shown to release tiny plastic particles into the atmosphere. These particles may not be any worse for humans than the typical air pollution caused by road erosion, but they hint at the challenges that surround the issue of plastic waste management.
The most sustainable approach to single-use plastic may be eliminating it altogether.