Here is a quick question. What do we find at the intersection of nature’s ingenuity and people’s indifference? The unfortunate answer is a single-use-and-throw convenience products.
I can list a series of situations which uphold the truth of the above statement.
The tender coconut comes right at the top of the list. This gift from nature comes with an exquisite packaging that delivers all the goodness needed to nourish our bodies and also enrich the soil after its use. Yet, as humans, we insist that we need a plastic straw to draw on the contents. We do this without a care of what happens next and the ensuing harm that we bring on ourselves and our environment.
Then again, our behaviour towards flowers and the manner in which we insist that the only way to show our love to our loved ones is to engulf our beautiful bouquet with a sheet of plastic.
The list can go on. We believe that we should place our trust in a plastic spoon which has travelled across many miles to bring us a false sense of hygiene even while the best hygiene is there in our fingers that can consume our food in the most sustainable manner. Without a care, we thrust balloons on our children, heap them with gifts wrapped in glitzy plastic wrappers and make them believe that this is how we define happiness.
It has been over a month since the ban on single-use plastic. Straws, cutlery, ear buds are now all items that should no longer be a part of our lifestyle. It’s good to see restaurants, airlines and many public events keep the protocol by switching from plastic to paper and wood.
On the other hand, the ban has had little effect on the street vendors who brings us coconut water or the small eatery that works with a slim margin and hence finds it difficult to push back on customers who feel entitled to their free plastic convenience. Single-use plastic is much cheaper than the other alternatives, including paper.
Indeed plastic is used extensively only because it is cheap to manufacture since it is produced from the by-products of other petrochemical products. But then, as consumers, we have failed to do the real number crunching. We have missed to calculate the real price that we are paying through damage to the environment and our own health as we ingest plastic fibres in the form of micro plastics. Like our water and soil, we are also contaminating our flesh and blood on account of the chemicals that leach into our solid and liquid food through the plastic containers we use.
We should at this point also understand that single-use paper products and even wood are not the best alternatives to single use plastic. Yes, these items are bio-degradable. That is about the only positive that works in their favour but there is a downside in terms of the huge material foot print in terms of raw materials that it uses. In terms of wood pulp, water and chemicals, these alternatives have an extensive footprint on the environment. Paper in fact requires four times more water in its production as compared to plastic.
Under these circumstances a ban on select single-use plastic items has its limitations in terms of making a difference to our health and environment. How then do we move towards a clear stream of reasoning that will propel us to real change?
The answer is simple. We have to choose long-term instead of single-use products. Steel, glass or ceramic are materials that are inert and have long life embedded in their character. All we need to do is sit down with ourselves and bring ourselves to understand the long term benefits of moving to materials which are not single- use and throw. This will mean that we redefine convenience. We commit to carrying our own bottle, mug, and other items that we need for our joy of living.
And as we sit to have this serious conversation with ourselves, we can look to be motivated by what Rabindranath Tagore said, “Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit. Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action.”
There are 1.3 billion of us in India. Imagine the impact, if we could lead from the front as people from across the world learn to live a life not just without single use plastic but paper as well.
(Wilma Rodrigues is the Founder and CEO of Saahas Zero Waste)