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We Dare You To Use Plastic Bottles After Finding Out These Disturbing Facts

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NFI logoEditor’s Note: With #GoalPeBol, Youth Ki Awaaz has joined hands with the National Foundation for India to start a conversation around the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals that the Indian government has undertaken to accomplish by 2030. Let’s collectively advocate for successful and timely fulfilment of the SDGs to ensure a brighter future for our nation.

There’s a corner in my kitchen dedicated to plastic bottles. For as long as I can remember, we have been storing water at my house in this army of bottles and it was only very recently that my mother decided to get glass bottles instead.

This was, however, enough to drive home one point: plastic bottles are ubiquitous. Most beverages and soft drinks that we buy are served in plastic bottles.

But as we all know, these bottles aren’t the environment’s greatest friend. Just to put things in perspective, a plastic bottle takes 700 years to break down. And it’s estimated that the world uses more than 100 million plastic bottles daily, most of them only once!

Boy drinking water from plastic bottle
Plastic bottles are ubiquitous. Most beverages and soft drinks that we buy are served in plastic bottles. Source: Inkflo/ Pixabay

Have you ever wondered how these bottles are manufactured or what happens to them once you throw them away? From the time of its manufacture to the end of its journey, that ubiquitous plastic bottle spells doom for the environment. Which is why reducing dependence on it should be a part of the plan under sustainable development every country aspires to achieve under the Global Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Need more reason to act? Just follow the journey of a plastic bottle you use.

The assault on the environment starts from the manufacturing stage of these bottles. Oil plays a huge role in the manufacturing of plastic bottles and the plastic bottle industry uses 17 million barrels of oil every year to make plastics, a process that’s also detrimental to the environment.

Plastic Bottles manufactured at Coca Cola bottling plant
Empty plastic bottles move down a production line to be turned into Dasani bottled water at a Coco-Cola bottling plant. Source: George Frey/ Getty Images

After manufacturing, plastic bottles make their way across to stores and restaurants. Many single-use plastic bottles are sold by global soft drink firms – ranging from Coca-Cola to PepsiCo to Nestle, adding up to nearly two million tonnes.

So, what happens when a person buys a plastic bottle from a store? A person like me buys a bottle, keeps it around for all of ten minutes (in which time they have consumed the beverage) after which they dispose of the bottle.

Plastic bottle being segregated as recyclable waste
While disposing of plastic bottles, it might get recycled. It’s a good idea to segregate waste to ensure this happens. Source: Media Defence

Once the bottle is disposed, one of two things may happen. If you’re lucky, they may be recycled in special recycling plants:

Chinese man taking plastic bottles for recycling
A man rides riding a tricycle with plastic bottles to be recycled in Beijing, China. Source: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Israeli Plastic Recycling Plant
Israeli Plastic Recycling Plant. Source: David Silverman/Getty Images

But don’t get your hopes up, much of the plastic we throw away is not recycled. The US, for example, recycles only 25% of the plastic they produce. So, what happens to most of the bottles that we throw away? Most plastic bottles actually end up in garbage dumps like these:

Workers Sort Out Plastic Bottles At Chinese Disposal Site
Workers Sort Out Plastic Bottles At Chinese Disposal Site. Source: China Photos/Getty Images
Workers Sort Out Plastic Bottles At Chinese Disposal Site.
Israeli Plastic Recycling Plant. Source: David Silverman/Getty Images

Many may end up directly in rivers or in streams:

Rubbish Pollutes Manchester Ship Canal
Rubbish Pollutes Manchester Ship Canal. Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Rubbish Pollutes Manchester Ship Canal
Rubbish Pollutes Manchester Ship Canal. Source: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Rubbish Pollutes Manchester Ship Canal.
Rubbish Pollutes Manchester Ship Canal. Source: Christopher Furlong/ Getty Images

That one bottle you picked up for a quick drink and threw away unthinkingly is now most likely making its way slowly down the rivers and oceans of the earth, slowly clogging the life out of them. More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating around in the world’s oceans currently, according to recent research!

In case you think this is hyperbole, take a look at the ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’: an “indeterminate” region of water which has extremely high plastic concentration and often leads to the poisoning of marine life-forms, many of which are often consumed by humans.

It is high time that this problem is addressed. As one of the signatories to the of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, India needs to do more. But how do we do this? How do we stop polluting our water bodies? If you consider that 40 percent of the world’s oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats, seems like there is a lot we can do.

The easiest thing that one can do is to become a responsible consumer. Which means that we can’t just stop at buying a plastic bottle and throwing it away and then forgetting about it. We must substantially reduce waste we generate through the three big R’s: reduction, recycling and reuse. When it comes to drinking water, this means using glass bottles instead of plastic ones and generally reducing dependence on plastics in everyday life.

We also need to push our government to adopt sustainable practices that ensure environmentally sound management of chemicals and wastes, with the end result of less waste and less pollution all around.

These practices will not only help significantly reduce marine pollution from land-based activities but also help curtail activities that threaten our everyday life too.

Since plastic was invented more than a century ago, we have become dependent on it for its convenience, affordability and function. This dependence is now choking our environment. But small steps can make a huge difference. And it’s time we started taking those steps.

It is our responsibility not only as a nation but as a citizen of this planet (of our only home as we know it) to protect it and to ensure that planet continues to be livable. Because we have only one home and one chance to protect it. Waiting is no longer a luxury that we have.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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