While the city of Mumbai is gearing up to cut 3500 trees to build a Metro Car Shed in our Aarey Forest instead of relocating it, there is positive news for environmentalists on a different issue. Considering the horrible flooding and choke-ups of storm water drains during monsoons and considering our severe garbage dumping issue, the Maharashtra government has decided to ban disposable plastics after March 18, 2018. Read reports here.
Meanwhile, for those grumbling about the ‘inconvenience’, please note, we have been inconveniencing the Earth for decades. It’s time we take responsibility if we want to leave a living planet for the future generations.
Plastics not only choke up our drains making them overflow or flood our roads, they also pose a health hazard when they accidentally catch fire at the garbage dumps, releasing toxic chemicals into our already-polluted air. Meanwhile, stray dogs, cats, cows, goats, and even many species of birds that sometimes eat from our garbage dumps swallow these plastics as they are covered with the aroma of the food and they cannot tell the difference. Our wastes not only worsen our lives but also kill other innocent creatures. Plastics that have been dumped into the sea often end up in the bodies of sea-creatures who choke on them. Watch this heart-wrenching video of a plastic straw that was stuck in a turtle’s nose, being removed. The cries of the innocent creature will break your heart!
Here is a photo of an autopsied (post-mortem) bird from Midway Island, an island uninhabited by humans, of birds that eat up plastic waste washed to their shores, assuming the coloured plastic is food.
But we know most of you realise the ban on disposable plastics is necessary, and are simply in need of a few options. So here is a list of options to plastics, and in many places, links to where you can get these products from. Watch out for the ‘DON’T BUY’ marked in various places, that give suggestions which are lighter on the pocket. Let’s begin:
1. Grocery bags: Make it a habit to carry a cloth bag wherever you go. Also, while buying foodgrains like a month’s supply of rice or wheat, request the grocer not to pack it in plastic, but pour the grains directly into your clean cloth bag. Remember, this is what our parents and grandparents did safely in the past, before plastic became so common.
‘DON’T BUY’ – you can get old t-shirts, pajamas or old torn bedsheets stitched up into a grocery bag for as low as Rs. 20! Try the local ‘darzi‘.
You can also exchange your old newspapers and win a cloth bag FREE! Take a look at the initiative below:
2. Buying eggs: While most egg-shops pack the eggs in paper bags or are packed in egg cartons, you can reduce the use of paper by carrying a metal tiffin-box for the eggs. Find the most suitable size for your requirements. I use a large aluminium can for a dozen eggs, and am less worried about them breaking on the way back home. They also don’t move much in the can.
3. Plastic water bottles: Invest in a metal water bottle and carry it with you. Any metal and steel shop in Mumbai will sell you steel and alloy bottles. They do cost a bit more (starting at Rs 250 for a 600ml bottle) but is an investment that will last. Remember, plastic bottles also means that the plastic particles can get into your water. Metal bottles are safer, and can be cleaned with soap and water. Also, many bottles now are designed like flasks so your water remains cool or hot for longer. BEWARE: Sometimes the bottle may be made of metal, but the bottle cover may be plastic. Choose bottles with metal covers like the ones in the pictures below:
Unfortunately, there is no ban on the use of non-biodegradable, single use bottles for bottled water. Buying bottled water seems easy for many people, but the problems caused by it are tremendous (see this on problems caused by plastic bottles). So please avoid plastic water bottles and small sealed plastic water cups at parties, especially weddings. There will always be a source of unbottled or unpackaged drinking water at most events, you can make a better choice.
4. Storing water at home: The old practice of storing water in clay pots or steel vessels seems to have been replaced by the use of plastic bottles. If you can manage to bring back that practice, it will be healthier for you and your family. Another option is the use of glass bottles. Glass bottlescan also be used for storing water, vinegar, oil, etc. as glass is non-reactive and does not leach toxins in the food. You may either find them online or in stores that sell kitchen wares like Flipkart.
‘DON’T BUY’: Some of us at Green Madcaps simply ask families in our neighbourhood for their old wine bottles. The 750ml bottles fit perfectly in the refrigerator (WARNING: DO NOT FREEZE GLASS BOTTLES, they will break). The odour of the wine (or other alcohol) can be removed by thorough washing with warm/hot water and dishwashing detergent. Bottles of whiskey, vodka, etc. sometimes come with a specialised cap to restrict the free-flow of the alcohol. This can be carefully broken with a large screwdriver.
5. Plastic bags in shops: Do you really need a plastic bag to pack your newly-purchased T-shirt or salwar-kameez, etc.? Ask for it to be wrapped in newspaper and put that in your bag. Often, shopkeepers complain to me that the customers usually DEMAND a plastic bag, and may also refuse to buy the product if a carry-bag isn’t provided. Let us not be those people.
6. Garbage Bags: A new trend in cities is the use of garbage bags. The plastic bag manufactures are celebrating our choice. But the Earth is not. Thankfully, we have choices:
Bio-degradable plastic bags: These are made by two companies, BioTecBags and EnviGreen . Both are durable options if you need them. They also make smaller bags which you can use while shopping for wet food items like fish or meats. Bio-degradable garbage bags are easily available on Flipkart here, and on Amazon here and here.
‘DON’T BUY’: A simple, medium-sized garbage liner can be made at home from newspaper. Take a look at this 56-second video here, to learn how to make these.
7. Animal waste: Some of us have pets, and when you walk your dog or clean up kitty (or other animals’) litter, paper doesn’t work. If the biodegradable garbage bags are too big for single use, consider biodegradable pet dog poop-bag. You can use it like other plastic bags, and keep your hands and surrounding clean after your pet has done ‘it’s job’. You can buy them here.
8. Large-scale plastic spoons, fork, cups: If you’re having a party, request the caterer to use metal spoons, knives and plates. Also, tell your guests why you made that choice, and encourage them to be part of an eco-friendly choice. For our Sunday School, we had invested in thick plastic drinking glasses that could be washed and re-used. (Quick washing tip: soak all used glasses in a bucket of soapy water to get rid of stickiness. Then rinse with fresh water. This method saves a lot of time).
- EDIBLE spoons and plates: Bakey’s in India produces edible cutlery, made out of flour. You can order plates, spoons, and chopsticks having either sweet or savoury taste, to match your dishes. A set of 100 spoons cost Rs 300 and provides a livelihood to villages in Andhra Pradesh. Order here.
- Plates made from palm trees: You may have seen these in stores. Here is a link to an online store if you can’t find it in shops around you. Prices may vary. Order here.
- Leaf-plates: You may have seen these traditional Indian leaf-plates at a pani-puri stall sometime. These plates are multi-layered and can thus handle a whole meal without leaking. However, avoid using it primarily for liquids. The plates are sold here.
- Corn-starch or sugarcane plates: These were the most economical that I could find, and are available on Flipkart here. The plates resemble plastic plates, and are leak-proof. Touchwood Industries in Delhi has a wide range of plates, spoons, even skewers and gloves made from biodegradable material! Take a look at their website here.
9.Plastic spoons, fork, cups, straws for personal use: THERE ARE SO MANY OPTIONS!!!
- Carry your own light-weight FOLDING CUP when you travel or attend meetings: Take a look at these cute, colourful, flexible cups that can fold inward and be stored in your pocket! Some come with a folded handle making it easier to hold warm liquids. You can find these on Amazon here. I haven’t tried the metal versions for fear that with rough use, they may bend and ultimately cause a leak. Use the colourful folding glasses to make a statement to those around you, about your eco-friendly choices.
For those using paper cups, please note that these paper cups now come with a wax coating, making it harder to decompose. Best to avoid them, too.
- Carry your own folding metal spoon+fork when you travel: Check out this product on Amazon here. These are made of good metal and can be SEPARATED so you can use both the spoon and fork quite comfortably. In other products, the spoon and fork attachment is joined like on a Swiss Army Knife, making it difficult to use both at the same time.
- Plastic Straws: One of the most unnecessary plastics used are straws, especially at fruit-juice stalls. We can drink from a glass or a bottle without a straw. So, when you go to a stall, ask the stall-owner NOT to use a straw in your drink. However, in case you do need a straw, maybe for a child, or for coconut water, how about a re-usable, steel one? Here is yet another product – a set of metal straws (with a small enough brush to help with washing). You can find this on Amazon here.
If you’re making these choices, thank you for being proactive. If you’re new to making these choices, don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Above all, SPEAK TO OTHERS about the choices you’re making. A major reason why most of these plastic-bans fail is because people aren’t aware about the effects, and those who are aware rarely speak about it. Read about one of my experiences speaking to a street-shop owner and ultimately educating more than 4 people in a matter of 15 minutes. You will find the link here. Meanwhile, how much plastic can you resist by using the above options? See this infographic below for the top seven disposable plastics that are saved from use, when you use non-disposable/biodegradable options.
If you have more suggestions to add, or have questions regarding any of the suggestions mentioned above, please write to us in the comments below.
Let us make the ban on disposable plastics a sweeping one, strengthened by our choices.
Read more at: Green MadCaps