First time I came across the word plastic, was when a cousin of mine, who has settled in England, had come to India. He still lives there. I was in school in those days. He was in plastic industry and would pronounce plastic as “PLOSTIC”. All of us were highly impressed by that word. Little did I realize then that plastic will become so important in our lives. The real usage of plastic bags started world over in late 70’s, of the last century. All the super markets and Mom and Pop stores started giving plastic bags when purchases were made. Initially, it felt fancy that we had to stop using our own cloth bags. Over a period, the whole world became so much dependent on these bags, that other types of bags were passé.
As per human nature, people started manufacturing thinner and stronger bags. Thinner and thinner bags have really started causing problems of disposal. Thinner bags clog things easily and due to light weight float around. From 23rd June 2018, Government of Maharashtra has put a ban on usage of plastic bags for many usages. This ban is not only for vendors but for users like you and me. If you and I are found using plastic bags in public, we are liable to be punished with fines. There are a lot of discussions going on, about what is right and what is not right. Opinions floating are that, what government has done is correct, maybe a little tweaking will help, to blaming government for trying to cover up its failure of garbage collection policy. As usual the answer is somewhere in between but for me it is 80% towards first opinion. There are bound to be teething problems whenever new things are attempted.
I have tried to gather information without going into technical stuff. Here is some information about plastic bags. Since the studies of such nature are more prevalent in western countries, more information will be available from those countries. But to me India with such a large population must be up there in usage of plastic bags, also popularly known as carry bags.
- Plastic bags are produced using petroleum, natural gas and other chemicals. Its production is toxic to the environment.
- Plastic bags were introduced to supermarkets in 1977.
- 160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second!
- 5 trillion plastic bags are produced yearly. Side by side, they can encircle the world 7 times.
- In 2008, a sperm whale was found beached in California. It died due to the more than 22 kilos of plastic found in its stomach.
- Plastic will only start degrading after 700 years and will only fully degrade in 1000 years. This means that all the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet.
- Plastic bags remain toxic even after it breaks down. It doesn’t biodegrade, it photo-degrades. It means that after it degrades, it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic bits of itself – and bleeds and contaminates the environment.
- Thin plastic bags tend to spread all over, due to breeze, very easily even while they are being taken to the dumping grounds.
- An average family will use 60 plastic bags on four visits to the supermarket.
- Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide.
- Plastic bags cause the death of many marine animals when bags are mistaken for food.
As far as India is concerned, the opinion that garbage collection should be improved to avoid plastic bag menace, does not hold good. Rather than talking of failure of garbage collection, we should look at our social behaviour; as a society we have very low discipline level. Dumping things in rivers has been our culture. The flowers used for Puja are next day thrown into river as “Nirmalya”, there is a tradition of dumping dead bodies in the river Ganga, after cremation we dump the bones in water bodies like rivers. With this kind of “tradition”, it will be impossible to expect people to behave and dump their garbage in dumpsters, if found on roads. Clearing the dumpsters full of garbage is another story!
I was traveling by train in Northern India. One could easily judge if we were nearing a station. A km or so before the stations, dumped plastic bags in hundreds, were visible on both sides of the track. Garbage disposal discipline, anyone?
I feel that government of Maharashtra is going in the right direction. What can we do to support his movement?
- Start by bringing your own Eco-Friendly bags.
- Return all plastic bags with you to the corporation ward offices.
- Patronize businesses that support the effort to reduce plastic bag usage. Don’t get mad at them for inconveniencing you if they don’t give you a plastic bag.
- Spread awareness by not accepting plastic bags from retailers and reminding them that it’s toxic to our environment. We did that yesterday when a vendor was giving us to carry stuff, in a legally allowed thick plastic bag. We thanked him but used our own cloth bag.
- Let’s start educating our children about the plastic bag problem so they will continue the efforts and go green themselves.
- Stop using plastic carry bags altogether.
As the charity should begin at home, socially correct things, which will be good for all, should start with us. Honestly speaking heavens are not going to fall if plastic bags are not used. Till late 80’s plastic bags were a novelty. Everybody was using reusable bags made up of cloth. Even in those times, people bought fish, chicken and mutton when there were no plastic bags around. People were required to buy milk, cooking oil! They took the containers with them! To get food from outside, people carried their tiffin! Home delivery food business will obviously find a solution to overcome the plastic bags ban, after all they want to run their business! In olden days, during heavy rains there was clogging of drains, mostly due to tree leaves. Now majority of the clogging is due to plastic bags.
Some people have been doing a good job. I went to Pune zoo years back. Even in those times, they were environment friendly. At the gates, they would check the bags and would not allow visitors to carry any food stuff in plastic bags. For those who wanted to carry plastic water bottle, they would take Rs.10/ deposit; this would be returned on way out, when water bottle was displayed.
The need of the hour is to look for better ways of handling life, in absence plastic bags. There are ways of making bags which can be recycled. We must find ways to mass produce bio degradable bags, at low cost. I remember carrying cloth bags to get things from market when I was in school and college. We did not have to remember to carry the bags with us. It was a way of life. Humans want a steady state in life, change is always resisted. Going back to olden way of life is generally thought to be a retrograde step. But in this case, I think it is leap forward. It is path breaking stuff and let us all support the good path being trodden.