By Chitra Mukherjee:
These are exciting times we live in. Yes the world is horribly polluted, yes the air we breathe and the water we drink and the cities we live in need improvements on a gargantuan scale. But look at the bright side. Of course, there is one!
We have all finally woken up to the mess we are all in. We have realized that this can’t just go on. We can’t keep buying things mindlessly. We can’t keep producing things like plastic straws and disposable wax lined coffee cups and plastic throwaway cutlery and thermacol plates that we chuck after a single use and so much other stuff that we use so irresponsibly. It just has to STOP!
We are coming to terms with the fact that the planet’s resources are definitely not unlimited. We are exhausting them with our thoughtless consumerist habits and we need to take a stand, educate ourselves, make a change in our behavior and attitude to what and how much we buy, how to use and importantly, how to dispose so that we don’t make the environment a trash bin.
We are talking of the big Rs – Reducing, Recycling and Reusing. Yes, we are making big mistakes. We are falling down but we are also getting back on our feet and learning. But the getting up needs to be a lot quicker. We have seen the terrible effects of emulating the West and trying to adopt their very expensive technologies in our own country. We have burnt waste in incinerators in Delhi and created poisonous gases for the city to breathe and in the bargain put hundreds of wastepickers who clean and recycle for us, out of a job. We have been responsible for their children being taken out of schools.
Let’s make amends and not repeat these mistakes. Let’s learn to manage our waste sustainably by giving all our plastic, paper, cardboard, metal etc. to our kabaadiwalas. Let us learn to compost all our kitchen waste. I know all this will take a little effort but it is all in the mind and our children will thank us for a cleaner planet.
Oh yes! Plastic straws and disposable coffee cups and single-use knives and forks. Did you know they decompose in around 500 years and will outlive us all? Straws are terrible for marine animals and birds. They are responsible for choking and killing them. So knowing we are killing turtles and fish and all kinds of marine species just because we like sipping our coke with a plastic straw makes me writhe. What do you feel? Can’t we just do without a straw? Or insist on a paper one if at all we need to use one. Or even a bamboo or a stainless steel one which we can use many many more times.
So what can we do to be nice to the planet? Don’t accept plastic bags or disposable plastic or thermacol cutlery. Say a big NO to things packaged in difficult-to-recycle multi-layered packaging like the fancy potato chips and nachos we buy. How about the local chips which we can buy from the grocer in paper bags?
You will say but then why make these difficult-to-recycle things at all? And you would have hit the nail on the head. Because no one is taking the manufacturers of these things to task! The government will penalize you for using a plastic carry bag but turn a blind eye to the multinational making one and flooding the markets with it. Shocking, isn’t it? Where is the accountability? How are the producers getting away with shirking their responsibilities?
At the risk of sounding holier-than-thou, I have to admit that I have started carrying my own steel glass and spoon and a cloth bag. Yes, the spoon does get a little icky, I do need to wash it and keep it away instead of happily chucking it away in the trash bin. The coffee shop guys and the airline staff smirk at me but I can live with it. Do we even have an option anymore?
Chitra Mukherjee is the Head of Programmes for Operation at Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.