Plastic bag campaign reaches India in time for Dalai Lama's visit

Catriona Mitchell
Monday, 5th December 2011

The Sacred Earth Trust, whose charitable remit is to protect sacred and UNESCO world heritage sites, is spearheading a campaign to replace plastic bags with hand-sown alternatives in Bodhgaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. This is part of a wider campaign which benefits local people as well as the environment.

In late December, a large-scale world peace blessing led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama will take place in Bodhgaya, a small village in India's poorest state where 2500 years ago the Buddha attained enlightenment.

The Kalachakra ceremony is likely to attract 100,000 visitors to a village that's normally home to 30,000. This inundation of pilgrims and tourists would normally bring devastating environmental consequences, with mountains of rubbish accumulating and being burned in the streets.

However, this year's event won't be marred by insurmountable waste, thanks to the Sacred Earth Trust (SET), a not for profit set up for the environmental protection of sacred and UNESCO world heritage sites. Since April 2011, all disposable plastics have been banned in Bodhgaya – the result of a campaign led by SET with a petition of 7000 signatures presented at government level.

The ban has been well received by the locals, who are beginning to see the destructive effects of pollutants. Plastics used for cups, plates, and food packaging, for example, leach chemicals that are endocrine disrupters and can cause cancer, birth defects and damage the male reproductive organs. When left on the dumping grounds they start to contaminate the ground, and when burned, the chemicals released into the atmosphere contribute to respiratory and other health problems.

In preparation for the throngs coming in December, 80,000 cloth bags are being sewn to replace plastic bags, bringing much-needed income to the village women, and SET is establishing clean-up strategies in collaboration with local government. SET also runs training programs for women, school teachers and youths, teaching sustainable methods like zero waste concepts, seed sovereignty, eco technologies and green building design.

Next year there are plans for a recycling centre, and in March-April, SET will lead an intensive permaculture design course for local and international participants, covering topics such as water, energy, composting, and complementary growing techniques.

Lillian Sum, SET's Director, hopes SET's green practices will inspire not only the children of Bodhgaya to create a better future for their own village, but all those who visit from around the world, who can then replicate them at home.


Sacred Earth Trust is a not for profit organization set up in 2009 to support and encourage the sustainable development and environmental protection of sacred sites and UNESCO world heritage sites around the world, through working in co-operation with the local, indigenous people and international groups. It has offices in India and the UK.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Sacred Earth Trust should email [email protected]