The news that ‘Rajasthan bans plastic carry bags' (The Hindu, July 27, 2010) does spread some cheer as most of us are so used to carrybags and find it hard to let them go.

Decades ago, the story was different. People carried small steel dabbas to hotels to bring home the idli and sambar. The buzzword now is technology and convenience. Today even sambar and rasam are packed into thin, plastic carrybags.

The popularity of these bags has grown manifold, thanks to retail chain outlets and malls. Customers trek out with purchases tucked into myriad carrybags of various sizes and hues which, in turn, come in handy to dispose of trash someday, and the vicious cycle continues.

Be it the roadside vendor, the dhaba, the garment shop, the bookshop, the toy store, the neighbourhood grocery store or those small local shops selling cigarettes which dot every streetcorner, a plentiful stock of these easy-to-carry plastic bags is kept ready-at-hand. The average shopkeeper views it as good for the business. The aim is to keep the customer happy.

With the introduction of these cheaply priced carrybags, the very process of garbage disposal is superfast. Earlier, people trudged to the roadside trash bin lugging their brimming household dustbins. In contrast, the modern citizen dumps his garbage into plastic carrybags which, in turn, fly into the trash bin!

Consider this. India's population is estimated to touch 1.2 billion in 2011. Even if we suppose that less than a quarter of the population disposes of garbage once a day via the plastic carrybag, the total number of such bags in the country's garbage would be mind-boggling. And, mind you, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Mindset should change

Why is the degradation of the environment on the increase? Pointing an accusing finger at plastic carrybags is not the answer. The problem lies with the people. Our mindset has been conditioned to follow the herd. We need to think for ourselves, not look askance at others. The onus is on each individual to reduce the usage.

Much has been written about recycling plastic and I guess Alexander Parkes, who invented the world's first plastic in 1855, would never have believed even in his wildest dreams that the ubiquitous plastic carrybag or plastic cover as it is known would have environmentalists up in arms.

Recycling alone will not resolve the issue considering our population growth rates and the quantum of plastic waste. Recycling, combined with a reduction in plastic usage, will make a positive difference.

“From Bangalore to Boston, Indian scientists, engineers and thinkers are generating ideas and prosperity that improves and saves lives across India and the globe.” The above statement by American President Barack Obama is proof enough that India has come a long way. But, strangely, as a nation we lag behind in cleanliness. The first thought that strikes any visitor to our country is the garbage on the street. And a sizeable chunk of this garbage is plastic in form. Already, the green brigade has begun pressing the panic button. So where does the fault lie? Do we lay the blame on inadequate garbage clearance services? The truth is that municipal corporations and local bodies in cities and towns are struggling to cope with the burgeoning population.

Today, we find that even unlettered and semi-literate sections are comfortable with gadgets such as the mobile phone. Such being the case, surely, it is not impossible for us to unlearn habits. A conscious and concerted effort cutting across the socio-economic divide is the need of the hour. It's a question of learning to shun the plastic carrybag and stop trashing it. Modern technology should be at the forefront to wage this battle. Convey the message using blogs, SMS, twitter, YouTube, social networking sites and the like. We need to retrieve those ‘jholna' bags, clothbags and jute bags gathering dust in our cupboards.

(vidyav123@gmail.com)

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