Reducing your plastic footprint

With COVID-19 also contributing to a rise in single use plastic waste, eco-warriors discuss why smaller changes can muster a larger collective impact in the long term

Updated - July 28, 2020 07:43 pm IST

Published - July 25, 2020 04:02 pm IST - HYDERABAD

A file photo of a health worker in PPE suit

A file photo of a health worker in PPE suit

In its 10th year of existence, the Plastic Free July challenge — founded by Australian Rebecca Prince-Ruiz in 2011 — has grown into a global movement. It serves as an annual reminder to cut down on single use plastic, and nudges people to take small steps towards being planet-friendly.

This time, however, there is a newer challenge: disposable PPEs (personal protection equipment), which is indispensable for those in the frontline battling COVID-19. Though many among us have taken to using reusable cloth masks, the disposable variant and synthetic gloves are still used in significant numbers. Says Rebecca, responding via email, “Human health is critical at this moment. We encourage people to follow medical advice and not feel bad about the plastics they can’t avoid, but focus on the things they can still do.”

She adds: “Plastic Free July isn’t about being perfect but about making small changes in our daily lives which adds up to make a collective impact.”

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz

Rebecca Prince-Ruiz

Eco-warriors in India, like the author of Let’s Talk Trash , Shubhashree Sangameswaran, say that the pandemic has forced a re-evaluation of choices. “I used to take my own cans to buy oil from a grocery store but the pandemic made me hesitate since the stores might not be appreciative of it. But on the brighter side, the pandemic has made us slow down. The dependence on food delivery apps has come down and thereby, plastic and other packaging material,” she notes.

Nidarshana Saikia Das, co-founder of The Bartan Company, which rents out steel utensils for events in Hyderabad, concurs. “When I take a breather from cooking and place an order with one of the home chefs in our gated community, I take my own dabbas and avoid plastic,” she says, adding that she encourages people in her community to compost biodegradable waste.

She’s working on partnering with the Bengaluru organisation Daily Dump to introduce their ‘Kambha’ terracotta composters in Hyderabad.

Vani Murthy

Vani Murthy

Vani Murthy, who is often labelled Bengaluru’s ‘compost queen’, says cutting down plastic waste takes commitment: “We are all on a journey and the Plastic Free July challenge is an opportunity to scale up our sustainability. For example, switching to reusable cloth sanitary pads or menstrual cups can reduce our plastic waste on a monthly basis,” she points out.

In her webinars, where she discusses waste management and demonstrates eco-friendly swaps for plastic products, Vani observes an interest among attendees towards an eco-conscious lifestyle. “I get many questions about composting. Those who try composting have begun to understand its dual benefits: that the compost enriches your soil to grow good food and you send less wet waste to landfills that produce harmful methane due to anaerobic decomposition,” Vani says.But as the focus remains on getting through the pandemic by sanitising every packaged material that comes into our homes, Rebecca suggests using washable shopping bags. “We can also buy loose vegetables or fruits and refuse plastic packaging,” she says.

As for PPEs, innovations are underway. A UK-based organisation, A Plastic Planet, has developed a compostable visor for face shields that is made of wood pulp. It will take a while before such products are widely available. Until then, small measures to cut down on single use plastic helps.

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