“The Greatest Threat to Our Planet Is the Belief That Someone Else Will Save It” – Robert Swan
It is easy to suggest stopping the use of plastics. Well, if not plastics, then what do we substitute it with. Unless we come up with an alternative for plastics, banning it completely will be humanly impossible as it is something that we use day in and day out in our lives. As much as it may seem to be the most convenient wrapping bag for all the essential supplies, it has also left serious environmental consequences worldwide for decades together and is still continuing. A plastic item takes up to a thousand years to decompose itself and what is more disturbing is the fact that the world has produced 7 billion tonnes of plastic waste since 1950 and 79 per cent of the plastic waste ended up either in the world oceans or in landfills. It must have been much more by now as this is the 2015 data (Karelia & Bhaskar, 2018).
Plastic has become the ubiquitous material which our mother nature cannot digest. Single-use plastics have proven to be an eye-opening example of our throw-away society; the after-use plastics are forgotten, leaving a terrible legacy. Discarded single-use plastic products are responsible for widespread environmental destruction polluting land, river and ocean, claiming millions of lives every year. Micro plastics have proved to be more dangerous finding its way into the food chain, and have also reached in the food items we consume daily. Plastic carry bags have led to environmental havoc choking rivers, polluting land and oceans, and are often mistaken for food by animals.
According to the UN Environment, five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide which is 1,60,000 plastic carry bags per second. The number is increasing every single year (Saiñdur Enviro, 2020). Back home in India, approximately 707 million metric tons/year plastic products are manufactured and the majority of the plastics material goes to packaging applications. This is according to the Annual Report: 2015-16 of the Ministry of Chemicals And Fertilisers, Government of India (MoC&F). In this, about 80 per cent of the plastics consumed are used in the packaging sector.
Although the per capita consumption of plastic in India is only 9.7 kg (Tata Strategic), less than to the world average. Petrochemical products permeate the entire spectrum of daily use items and cover almost every sphere of life like clothing, housing, construction, furniture, automobiles, household items, agriculture, horticulture, irrigation, packaging, medical appliances, electronics and electrical etc. As per the study conducted by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 60 major cities of India, it has been observed that around 4059 T/day of plastic waste is generated from these cities (Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Govt. of India, 2018).
While the world is battling with this menace and how to help reduce its impact, Meghalaya too has witnessed efforts which can gain momentum, if propagated and embraced by the citizens of the State. Two worth mentioning efforts are the launch of SE Organic Bags on World Environment Day in 2019, by the honourable Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma and the single-use plastic being used as the road-building material in the State.
SE Organic Bag is the most promising solution to the problem of plastic pollution. The bags are made up of biodegradable polymers derived from renewable sources. It is 100 per cent compostable and eco-friendly. The bags get composted in standard compostable conditions as a result of microbial action and provide nutrition to plants. The bags are certified by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB, India) and are ISO 17088 compliant. These bags are designed to hold up to 7 kg of weight. Dustbin-liner ranges of SE Organic Bag can hold up to 15 L. The bags are leakage proof and can be used to carry wet materials as well.
Adding to this, the same company – Saindur Enviro P. Ltd, Shillong, who initiated the SE Organic Bag have also come up with eco-friendly bamboo cups, plates, bowls, food trays and sandwich containers made up of sugarcane bagasse and areca bark. The SE organic bags are made up of PLA (polylactic acid)-based material derived from renewable sources like corn-starch, cassava, sugarcane, etc. The advantages of using SE Organic Bag is that the bags get composted in 90-180 days without leaving any toxic residue in the soil, adding that the leftover is manure and can be used to enrich soil’s fertility.
The advantages of using eco-friendly bags over plastic bags are endless. The normal plastic bags which take up to 1000 years to degrade could significantly be reduced by the eco-friendly bag. Plastic bags that don’t make it to the landfill or recycling plant are at risk for photo degradation (light exposure that releases toxic polymer particles), ingestion (100,000 mammals each year), or pollution (10 per cent of all coastline debris). The use of eco-friendly bags reduces the amount of plastic bags entering the environment, and therefore the possibilities thereafter. Secondly, it takes a million barrels of oil to produce plastic bags each year, and that does not include transport and disposal.
By investing in an eco-friendly bag, we are contributing to less fossil fuel use, saving water, and promoting more sustainable resource distribution. Plastic bags, which may be cheap and convenient to use, are expensive to clean up especially if the quantity is large. Eco-friendly bags are stronger and more durable than conventional plastic bags. They are also much more comfortable to carry than traditional HDPE bags. Therefore, we are able to carry more with less stress on the hands and body in order to do so. Eco-friendly bags are also a great way to show our support for the environment or any other cause. We can do this merely by using a generic bag, or by purchasing one with our favourite brand or slogan on it. There are a wide variety of reusable bags that come in different shapes, colours, and bold messages (Plastic EDU, 2019).
What calls for immediate action now is the conscious attempt by individuals from all walks of life, in particular the trendsetters like the big malls and brands which we have already seen result in a major way. The continuous efforts of the vendors, suppliers, market authorities and local traditional bodies will eventually lead to that goal. The penetration of the Swachh Bharat Mission campaign has gradually shown results over the years and likewise, we will not be far away from making this world a free plastic planet. The campaign has brought in changes in the knowledge, the attitudes, and practices of the individuals. The two important mediums that have showcased effective results by far are the moulding and awareness that takes place in educational institutions and through media vehicles.
Although learning through the classroom and media takes time, they leave a lasting impact on their behaviour and in bringing in social change. Behaviour change is a process, which means that change may not happen all of a sudden. The two mentioned mediums have been tools of social mobilization for wider participation, coalition building, and ownership, including community mobilization. Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) uses mass and social media, community-level activities, and interpersonal communication for changes in knowledge, attitudes, and practices among specific audiences. And in this approach, it may be reminded that people cannot change their behaviour in isolation, so identifying and addressing multiple audiences is important for the message to be successful (www.FHI360.org, www.IHBP.org)
Lastly, while reflecting on the natural resources of the region, North East still has ample groups and tribes which have bamboo as their traditional livelihoods and occupations. This could be a good means of embracing this culture to fight plastic use. A renewable resource, wood from sustainably-managed forests can replace plastic in household items like cleaning brushes, kitchen utensils, and cutting boards. This fast-growing renewable resource can replace plastic in items like tableware and drinking straws. It is lightweight, durable, and compostable. Around for millennia, pottery and other fired ceramics offer a stable, waterproof alternative that is good for food storage and tableware.
Environment plays a very important role in the survival of living beings. The beautiful life on Earth is only possible because of its environment. A healthy environment is very crucial for a healthy life of living beings. Environment not only provides us with resources required for survival, but also protects us from various threats. Unfortunately, the greed of humans has resulted in environmental degradation and pollution affecting all living beings and destroying the beauty of the environment. Let us all work together and act responsibly for a clean and green environment towards a sustainable future for all (Saiñdur Enviro, 2020). (The writer can be reached at [email protected])