Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday urged citizens to eliminate single-use plastic and use cloth and jute bags instead. He urged authorities across the country to make arrangements for collecting plastic in the “first strong step” in the direction on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

Addressing the nation from the Red Fort in New Delhi on India’s 73rd Independence Day, Modi said: “In 2014, from the Red Fort, I talked about cleanliness. In 2019, soon, India will be ready to declare itself open-defecation free. Everyone helped make it a mass movement, without any role from the government. This October 2, can we make the country free from single-use plastic?”

Modi said: “Let’s pick up plastic from our homes, roads, everywhere, and municipal bodies and gram panchayats should make arrangements for collecting it. We will take our first strong step to say goodbye to plastic use this October 2.”

The prime minister urged start-ups, technicians and industrialists to find ways to recycle this plastic, such as by using it in constructing highways.

Modi also said this means alternatives to plastic must be provided. Shops can put up boards asking customers not to ask for plastic and to bring cloth bags from home, he said. “On Diwali let us gift people cloth bags instead of plastics. That will be an advertisement for your company as well. Giving diaries and calendars doesn’t help, so give cloth bags. Both jute and cloth bags will benefit the farmers and women who make them.”

Last year, Modi received the United Nations Environment Programme’s “Champions of the Earth” award from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. He was recognised for his political leadership and his pioneering work in championing the International Solar Alliance and for aiming to eliminate all single-use plastic in India by 2022.