I was on my way back by boat from a field visit in Khagaria, Bihar, when the lady I was travelling with threw the wrapper of Haldiram’s moong dal into the Ganga. Surprised at her casual, nonchalant disposal of plastic trash I asked her why she threw it there. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Aapne yahan kyu fainka?”
Her: “Aur kahaan faikenge?
Me: “Dustbin mein! Ghar pe kahaan fainkte ho?”
Her: “Ganga maata me sab saaf ho jata hai.”
I was stunned. The general attitude of people towards plastic use and disposal is often incomprehensible and difficult to change. It took me a years to understand this and review my own plastic consumption, so it’s definitely going to take a while for the larger picture to be understood by the larger public. It seems like plastic is a necessary evil we’ll have to live with. Weeding out the problem at its roots requires a revolution in the manufacturing industry and rigorous efforts in creating more and effective disposal facilities. Eliminating it completely from our daily lives, thus, seems near impossible right now. However – at an individual household level – small, conscious shifts in the products we purchase and use on a daily basis can compound to significant reduction in plastic waste.
As I continue my struggle with single-use plastics, especially during travel, here’s a list of some easy, hassle-free ways of adopting more eco-friendly alternatives.
- Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or bamboo straw and carry it wherever you go. It hardly takes up any space.
- Use a reusable cloth/jute bag for groceries. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own grocery bag from discarded clothes. Use, wash, re-use!
- Buy products in glass bottles or paper boxes instead of plastic packaging wherever possible. They can be reused and easily recycled.
- Purchase non-packaged items. Get your personal containers to carry products, especially food items like sugar, milk & curd.
- If packaged items are a must, try to buy in big packs or bulk. Also, saves money!
- Pack home-made snacks during travel to stay away from junk food and the plastic waste that comes with it. You’ll also be eating healthier.
- Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, and carry your bottle everywhere you go. Filter bottles like those sold by LifeStraw are a good investment that will help cut down on purchase of plastic water bottles during travel.
- Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
- Try out shampoo bars and give the plastic bottles a miss! We often dispose them without a second thought as we rarely find any alternative use for them.
- Avoid purchasing plastic containers for home. Steel or glass containers are easily available almost everywhere.
- Stop chewing gum. Yes, you heard that right! With the exception of a couple of ‘natural’ brands still made from chicle, all of the chewing gum on sale is made from butadiene-based synthetic rubber, a polymer, a plastic product made from oil, a bit like the stuff we use to make car tyres. We’re basically eating flavoured malleable plastic that is here to stick around for hundreds of years.
- Don’t be afraid to switch to menstrual cups, cloth or biodegradable pads ladies! Let your vagina breathe free of chemicals and reduce your carbon footprint alongside.
- Baby diapers too are chemically bleached. You could stick to traditional cloth diapers, but if you’re worried about them not holding too well, organic diapers are now available in the market.
- Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor.
- Replace your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one. While plastic toothbrushes litter landfills indefinitely, bamboo toothbrushes are definitely more eco-friendly and equally effective.
These are some of the simplest switches that can be made with just some conscious thinking. Setting small targets by segregating and collecting all your trash over a week helps to review consumption and make the right choices the next week.
Willing to take a step further to clean the environment? EcoBricks are an interesting and easy method of reducing plastics from finding their way into landfills or water bodies in your area. These are plastic bottles stuffed with plastic waste until they become as compact as bricks and can be used to build anything, right from a bench to a building to fencing for your home garden.
Environmental degradation due to plastic waste is a hard-pressing reality and individual efforts can go a long way in changing this…and even if you do end up with a piece of plastic, try to recycle/reuse or at least dispose it the right way. Always remember, Ganga mata is not going to clean up our mess.