Plastic Bags! To be or not to be!

Make minor changes in life style for eco friendly world!

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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.

Is it three cheers for EV’s or one cheer?

EV’s are here to stay!

The other day I was at a party held by foundry technology experts group to commemorate an individual landmark. Fish, chicken and various tikkas were available in abundance. Liquor was flowing and I was as usual high with my drink H2O on the rocks! Different subjects were being discussed, old memories were shared. It was a fun atmosphere. I asked someone who is in foundry related service industry, “What do you think will be the effect EV’s on your business? And when do you think it will start affecting your current business?” He was very candid and said, “Yes, this is going to affect my business in a big way, that may be felt from year 2030. But then by that time it will be for my next generation to handle it, and not me!”

There were 2/3 others in this discussion. One of them was a foundry expert plus, energy consultant. Another person was a foundry expert for an International giant for Asia Pacific region. I am none of these but as a hobby, I read a lot about Electric Vehicles and consequently about Energy situation. It was mentioned that one the industrial giants, Kalyani group is already jumping the EV components bandwagon. Tata, Mahindra, Suzuki-Toyota combine, Hyundai (they claim that they will launch their first EV in India ahead of Suzuki-Toyota combine in 2019 itself.) will be four major players in India; for these four mentioned companies, it is imperative to be in EV market. Suzuki manufactures and sells more than 50% of their global production in India. Hyundai’s India % is sizable. Tata/Mahindra are local companies so they have to do it and have started off well in EV’s. My other friends were arguing that that 2030 is too early but inflexion point for production will come around 2040 which is 22 years hence.

(Point of Inflexion means a moment of dramatic change, especially in the development of a company, industry, or market.) 

Another argument was about power availability in India. I felt that people’s information on power situation in India was a little dated. India has jumped the power bandwagon in a big way. Solar and wind power may not need long distance transmission of power as is normally done, thereby reducing transmission losses. It could be done locally and there are huge number of diesel engine run water pumps in India, in rural areas. I will not go into details of whether this achievable but I can say that power generation costs have come down in India by using non- conventional methods; one tender was sanctioned in Gujarat in Dec 2017, at Rs.3/ per unit as against Rs.6/ plus of coal and fossil fuel methods.

http://powermin.nic.in/en/content/power-sector-glance-all-india

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_India

These links give details about power generation situation in India as on Dec 2017 and renewable energy projections upto 2022, respectively. The argument in the party was that current power production is way below even today’s needs, so how can India feed EV requirements. When fossil fuels rates are controlled by Arabs how will we get cheap power? The two links clearly show that the current power generation situation is not as bad it is thought by many. In some areas in India there is a power surplus. Our current problem is that the grids are not able to distribute the power from surplus areas. As more and more power in India is going to be generated by non-conventional sources like solar and wind, price reduction  of power will quickly happen and capacities will be added faster! This is already happening in Germany and in California!

According to my understanding the Point of Inflexion for introduction of EV as a product reached long back. In September 2017 total EV production in the world was 1,23,000 which was 56% above 2016 Sept sell. Extrapolated to yearly sale it will be 1.45 million against world production of around 90 million. This is about 1.6%. This indicates that point of inflexion of product proving is crossed. There are reasonable number EV’s on the road. Major manufacturers like VW, Toyota, Ford, Nissan already have big plans for EV’s which will start rolling out in larger numbers.

In the discussion I was having, someone had a view that EV is just a passing fad and will die soon. IC engines can never die! This I felt was a very naive thinking. This gentleman also suggested that many products showed a lot of initial potential and then died. There are two strong reasons why this will not happen for EV. First is pollution. Delhi, London, Beijing and many others are classic examples of what havoc pollution can do. World is not left with many choices but to get pollution free methods of motoring around. Secondly, countries which have large amount of fossil fuels currently, control the economy and inflation related issues. World already has said enough is enough. Big searches for different methods are underway for alternative fuel. Already some major cities and some small nations have started creating laws which will be effective in not allowing diesel cars within their limits ; later on they will not allow even registration of fossil fuel cars.

Smaller companies have already made their foray into electric tempo, riksha. These are one of the most polluting vehicles. This is a good sign as the last mile is always tricky. These are not very costly and fancy vehicles, so big shots will not be interested. Another good sign is people are also talking of making ships run on EV! It is doable, weight and space is not an issue for them. Buses appear to be next after cars but I am reading about leading companies like Hero, Bajaj and Honda foraying into Electric two wheelers.

So, whether we like it or not, whether we know about it or not, whether we want it or not EV’s are here to come. So, during my next party with H2O on the rocks discussion will be more about when and not about “if” of EV’s. Cheers!

I am getting a Toyota Prius!

One of the most important aspect of human civilization is that nobody can stop the technological advancements. Technology, the right one, is simply unstoppable. Humans do not change and they most of the time feel that so and so technology cannot become popular. There are very few visionaries who can guess, predict what can happen after a couple of decades. Initially when any technology comes the cost of its implementation as well as usage is always very high. This cost does come down with increased volume.

Let us consider the scenario in solar energy globally. Germany recently on a particular day produced, 85% of its total electricity produced, by Solar. The energy market in Germany runs like a trade market and the rate at which power is bought by distribution companies is based on demand and supply. On that particular day the rate went below zero! California on one day recently produced 67% of its electricity by Solar. US being a very large country will take a long time to reach Germany’s level as a country but it will happen in pockets. India & China are galloping fast towards solar energy in a big way.

If we think about steam engines and trains, initially people were just curious and felt that trains cannot compete with carts pulled by animals. Once the fear in people’s mind reduced, time of travel decreased and more and more people started travelling in trains and rest as they say is history. My first travel to USA was in 1981 and I had paid US $ 1076/ for return journey. Even today we pay hardly more than that in Dollar terms, for return ticket to USA. Why this happened? Because of safer, faster, larger airplanes increased the volume.

Cell phone is another classic example of technology that made it a disruptive device! When I first got my cell in late 90’s the cell phone was quite heavy, almost ugly, and it cost Rs.16/ minute to receive and make calls! In twenty years Cell phones have become sleek, they are much more powerful than computers specs ten years ago! Ten years ago GB was a word very rarely used even in computers. On top of that making calls is now free! Technologically in 20 years cell phones have gone places! Who would have thought of these changes? In the initial phase cell phone was the so called rich person’s toy. The beauty is that land line telephones have been there for more than 100 years doing same basic work that cell phones do, talking to each other. But other than becoming sleeker, land line phones did not change much in technology. Hence the landline phone population is on the wane world over.

Next classic battle that I visualize is between IC engine cars and Electric/Hybrid cars. The usual naysayers are saying that the current car companies are so powerful that they will just not allow this to happen. What are the parameters that will come into picture? Current volume of Electric/Hybrid cars is miniscule and their yearly volumes are nothing to write home about. So what is it that is needed for the picture to reverse, if it does! Fuel costs is one important parameter. Petrol/Diesel costs have come down from highs of US$ 150/ per barrel and have stabilized around US $50/. The original cartel led by Arab countries is finding it difficult to keep high rates due to new people coming in, huge American & Canadian reserves which were not known even ten years back, have suddenly become available. Their cost of production of extracting oil is also coming down. The fear of Petroleum products simply getting exhausted from the world has gone. So fuel cost may not be THE thing that will trouble current cars. But on the other hand, the cost of producing electricity is definitely going down fast. As more and more countries including India go strongly after solar energy, this cost will come down further. The countries which have lot sunlight round the year can become major players in producing next “Petroleum” for cars. Along with this wind energy is also playing a major role. One thing is for sure compared to petroleum products “Sunlight & Wind” are definitely never going to get exhausted. What all this will also do is pollution levels caused by burning Petroleum products will also come down. On top of this when more and more Electric/Hybrid cars get into use pollution levels will further go down.

Largest component of Electric/Hybrid cars is battery pack. Tesla is already building a Giga battery factory in Nevada where they will be able produce battery packs for five hundred thousand cars a year, at naturally very low cost. Already, Tesla is talking of producing cars that will be only slightly more expensive than sedans. Another limitation currently is the distance the car can travel with one charge. In cell phones  already fast charging systems have come, so I am sure it will happen in Electric cars too! So maybe when you have coffee break or wash room break, you can recharge your batteries. Once these cars are reasonably priced people may use such cars the way we use scooters in India, to travel smaller distances. For last hundred years there has been not much improvement in battery storage technology, compared to other fields and same is the case with IC engine cars. I am sure in batteries the break through is just round the corner! If automotive technology had improved as much as electronics, a car would have travelled round the globe in one liter of fuel!

If we summarize this battle, cost of production of fuel (electricity) to charge the electric cars is going down, cost of battery packs is going down ( it is like engine price going down), battery pack capacity will slowly start going up like some Tesla cars go beyond 350 km per charge, pollution improvement is a bonus. On the other side Volvo has already declared that they will not produce diesel cars from 2023 because cost of using technology for pollution compliance will go up exponentially. Volkswagen has already claimed that they will not produce IC engine cars beyond 2030. In India Suzuki & Toyota have joined hands to manufacture hybrid cars for Indian market. Suzuki and Toshiba have joined hands in India to build Lithium Ion battery mega plant. In USA GM and Ford also have big plans for electric cars. BMW i3 model electric car was quite visible when I last travelled to USA. Along with that a lot work is being done by Google and Apple in driverless car. I feel that controlling an electric car with computers will be much easier than IC engine cars! Will humanity be able to stop Electric/Hybrid car technology? Only time will tell. But in the end right technology will win!

So my next car is definitely going to be a Toyota Hybrid Prius! There is small issue of money in the bank but I will generously accept it, if someone wants to gift me a Prius! I will put big donor name sticker on the car! Happy (electric) motoring!