If this is not on a war-footing what else is. Come October 2 and the Centre could announce a ban on a slew of Single-Use Plastic (SUP) items for us folks. All 4000-odd urban local bodies must segregate recyclable and non-recyclable plastic waste; 5 lakh sarpanches (village heads) and swachhagrahis (cleanliness volunteers) would receive a personal exhortation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Himalayan region and other eco-fragile zones would be made plastic-free. There is a mile of other initiatives which could be read here.
This is a giant leap in the fight against plastic. We all look smart in being lucid against plastic over a coffee with friends. But we do little. We ignore that plastic is not biodegradable (that is, it wouldn’t decompose into a natural substance like soil) and its’ devastating lives on land or water. From the straws we use to the cups of Starbucks Coffee; from the water-bottles to the cutlery we use at airports; from our grocery bags to the chips packet we pick up from gas stations, every bit of plastic is indestructible. Dormant or burnt in landfills, plastic keeps releasing toxic chemicals which find its way into our food and water supply. It contaminates the air we breathe. It is linked to cancer, birth defects, impaired immunity, respiratory and endocrine problems and many, many more. It eats into the soil nutrients and impairs its vitality. Plastic is the Frankenstein of our own making.
A lot of plastic we litter blows into nature’s wilderness. Wild animals and birds can’t ingest them and starve to death since their intestines fall blocked. A prized Cape buffalo in Delhi zoo has become one such victim. Last year, it was an elephant. Half of all camels that die on the Arabian Peninsula each year are its prey. One of Japan’s famous Nara Park deer was found to have a 4.3kg of plastic in its stomach. Eight African elephants died in Zimbabwe in 2016: the list is endless.
Over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million sea birds die by plastic every year. One recent study has found plastic inside every single whale, dolphin and seal examined. By 2050, there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean. Aquatic mammals mistake plastic for food and either ingest them or become entangled by plastic. As it blocks their digestion system, they eventually die a slow and painful death. The ecology of the ocean is shattered. Death of one species is an existential issue for others.
The thing is, we all can be hands-on to this problem. It doesn’t take much either; just a little mindfulness. You could have a zero-waste kit which has a reusable or paper straw; a collapsible coffee cup; reusable cutlery, disposable cup, bamboo toothbrush, eco-friendly wraps, cloth bags etc. It’s the best way to make a statement outdoors; makes you look progressive too. There are multiple choices for such a kit. We are living in a finite world and its’ infinite exploitation simply is unsustainable.
So be in sync with your government which is walking the talk. Already, in the headquarters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Capital, water bottles have been banned following Modi’s public exhortation on Independence Day last month. Where once was a stack of cartons of water bottles and garbage containers which overflowed with used ones, there is now jugs and paper glasses to meet the needs.
This new course correction would surely hurt the food and beverages-producing giants. But profit can’t ride over the existential crisis. Amazon and Walmart are already pulling up socks. Amazon has announced it would remove non-recyclable plastic from its deliveries in India by June 2020. It won’t have the air-pillows and bubble wraps it used to protect products. Now it would be padding made out of paper. Walmart-owned Flipkart, India’s biggest e-commerce company, has set a deadline of March 2021 for itself. This would be a moment of reckoning for multinational giants who lineup our fridges with soft-drinks and water bottles. India abounds in restaurant chains, just running over the names of a few would give you an idea of how mammoth the scale is. The argument that SUP helps us fight food waste, keeping food and water fresher for a long duration, cuts out contamination and is cost-effective simply won’t cut ice.
This is a fight in which we all are together. For our own survival.
Author of “How United States Shot Humanity”, Senior Journalist, TV Presenter