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The Secret To A Plastic Waste-Free World Lies In Our Habits And Ethics

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This year, Earth Day had the theme ‘End Plastic Pollution’. World Environment Day had the theme ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. World Oceans Day had the theme ‘Preventing Plastic Pollution And Encouraging Solutions For Healthy Ocean’. As per statistics, 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ended up in ocean causing an estimated damage of $8 billion to the marine ecosystem.

Furthermore, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) issued some mind-boggling statistics which enlighten us, in brief, about the enormous danger the piles of plastic waste are generating globally.

  • The world uses 500 billion plastic bags every year.
  • 50% of plastic waste generated is made of single-use/disposable plastic.
  • We purchase 1 million plastic bottles every minute.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year.
  • The plastic waste we have generated in the last decade is many times higher than what we generated in the century previous to this.

However, the reality is far more dangerous than the aforesaid statistics.

We have entered into a time zone where we aren’t carrying plastics. The plastics are carrying us! Plastics have intruded our lives to the extent that we use them both in contraceptives (to control birth) and to test a woman’s fertility.

When the scientific community invented plastics, they probably had no idea that the issue of plastic waste would be the biggest fiasco for humanity, because of its non-biodegradable and persistent nature. Today, the market is flooded with items from baby toys to sex toys. One of the biggest users of plastics is biomedical corporations. Moreover, there’s no adequate waste-management measures in nearly three-fourth of the world’s hospitals and allied health centres. Despite the fact that plastics have been banned in so many countries and their provinces/states, the enforcement authorities have so far failed to impose the ban.

I won’t talk much about the statistics, the legality and the impact of such persisting non-biodegradable waste in our ecosystem. Instead, I would like to discuss our approach to reduce the use of plastics in our day-to-day life.

Let’s talk about marketing clusters from where such plastics are being traded to our homes in our daily lives. Let’s consider a single-family household consisting of six members. The purchase milk, bread, butter and food early morning leads people to bring a minimum of 2-3 plastics bags back home. Fruits and vegetables too require some 3-4 plastic bags. Apart from such daily trade-offs, the family also brings in plastics in the form of wrappers (for chips and other snacks).

Therefore, a family acquires an average of 10 plastic bags per day. This adds up to 70 plastic bags in a week and takes the monthly tally to an average of 300 plastic bags. We can add a margin of (+/-)20 bags to this tally.

90% of plastic waste generated in such families are from single-use/disposable plastics. This is the common family trend in many a lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class family in urban, semi-urban, small town, and rural market settings. Vendors selling vegetables, fruits, street food, small hotels and stores are the main traders of single-use plastic bags.

If families reduce and restrict this undue use of plastic by adapting themselves to carry cloth and herbal bags, their monthly use of plastic bags will drop sharply. Unfortunately, over a prolonged period of time, we have completely adapted ourselves to the use of plastic bags and related products. Moreover, we have poor infrastructure and knowledge about waste management and handling in India. A majority of major urban agglomerations have no adequate management measures for waste segregation, collection, transportation and storage. The explosive pace of the urban demographic sprawl and immigration have worsened the situation and made it graver. India’s metropolitan cities as well as medium and small urban clusters are vulnerable to flash floods during heavy localised rainfall – often because of choked water outlets in sewers due to heavy accumulation of plastic waste inside the channels.

Questions need be asked whether the concepts of civic social responsibility, corporate social responsibility, government social responsibility or citizen social responsibility need to be enforced or not. Personally, I believe that the core moral and ecological etiquette that subsequent generations used to inherit through education, culture and family values has now gone missing somewhere.

The use of plastics has brought dynamic behavioural changes in us. Plastics get integrated in our lives – so much so that we have adapted to it by discarding our ecological values, ethics and ethos. We throw away old clothes from our homes. For us, they  they have no more ‘reuse value’ for crafting and designing bags, because we are so addicted to plastics that we hardly think about the risks plastics pose to our ecosystem, now and in the future.

Picture credit: Nature Drive

In raising our quality of life going by the human development indices, it was once hoped that plastics would uplift poor and marginalised people, as it made life easier by helping them carry substantial loads. But as time went by, plastics became a disruptive, persistent, non-biodegradable risk in our lives.

It would seem that the scientific industry has become a corporate apparatus to introduce its inventions as products in the market, without assessing their dangerous and harmful social, economic and environmental impacts in the long run. The plastics were one such invention that has severely affected ecological structures and biodiversities ever since.

Yes, one can’t deny that plastics have offered an easy way out for us. Plastics introduced a way to insert an ‘upcycling’ stage in the normal cycle of reducing, reusing and recycling waste. However, today, we should focus on generating mass awareness and capacity building to eliminate these ‘convenient’ single-use/disposable plastics that account for nearly half of the plastic waste we generate every year.

Doing this is very simple, and an advanced eco-friendly technology isn’t needed to mitigate disposable plastics from our day-to-day household activities. We need to realise the disaster risks these wastes are creating. More importantly, in the present and the future, we should stick to our moral, cultural and ecological values. We have a great tradition of carrying bags manufactured from old clothes, bamboos and other natural materials. Our ecological etiquette will help us eradicate disposable plastics in all their forms and manifestations.

Municipal bodies in particular have an important role here. They not only need to administer, regulate and manage plastic waste segregation, collection, transportation and storage – they also need to involve youths, local people, non-governmental organisations, school and university students, women and other public and private institutions in generating awareness and capacity- building to eradicate the consumption of single-use plastics.

One of the biggest challenges for the local administration is to ensure the complete prohibition of plastic materials having a thickness of less than 50 microns, in accordance with the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2015. If we closely assess the share of disposable plastics in the overall plastic waste generation, it might exceed UNEP’s estimate of 50% in India. We should consider this challenge as an opportunity.

The solution lies in our daily behaviour and exercises, which will ultimately help us ensure a sustainable future for our children, in the long run. We should consider it mandatory for each one of us to make a habit of carrying cloth or herbal material bags. This will lead to a drastic decline in the generation of plastic waste. The ‘Reduce-Recycle-Reuse’ mantra is one of the paradoxes of our moral ecological understanding.

Small-scale efforts can bring about dynamic changes. It is the right time to adopt a style that promotes sustainable living. Spread environment education and awareness concerns in our school- going kids, emphasising the need to mitigate the use of plastics in our day-to-day lives. A sustainable and clinically-applied environmental education will lead to an understanding of how our life patterns have changed from simple to complex. A ‘sustainable living’ etiquette is therefore one of the steps if one wants to initiate themselves to a wise user of natural resources.

An environment at risk creates vulnerabilities in our health. A healthy ecosystem is the key to building a thriving society. Environment-awareness at formal and non-formal levels prevent the abuse of natural resources. On the other hand, lack of ecological awareness at the community and institutional levels is a major constraint for ecosystem-conservation. We should overcome this constraint by capacity-building. If we can’t recycle, refuse it.

India is one of the worst-managed countries as far as plastic wastes are concerned. Our sewer channels are choked up with tiers and tiers of plastic waste. Our water bodies are overloaded with floating plastics everywhere. The soil is losing potency drastically. There has been a drastic depletion in our ecological biodiversity. It is time to beat plastic pollution – and the solution lies in our living patterns. Let us allow mother earth to breathe better. Let us reduce the plastic load from our rivers. Let us stop such a large-scale plastic contamination in our marine ecosystem which severely threatens the biodiversity there.

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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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