Do you think it is possible to live without plastic? I do. Even though today when we look around us, it is hard to fathom that a plastic-free world is possible, believe, that it is. A lot of corner shops are now charging for each plastic bag as opposed to handing them out free of cost, almost all large brands have switched from plastic bags to paper bags and there has been a rise in the number of cloth bags being used. This International Plastic Bag free day, all these factors give us hope that a plastic free world is possible. Soon.
There have been ample studies and researches done about the ill-effects of plastic – its use and it’s disposal. Experiments have been conducted, reports have been written and plastic has been declared a ‘killer’. Land and marine animals die of mistakenly ingesting plastic, and humans take ill by inhaling the carcinogenic fumes released on the heating or burning of plastic and of course plants can’t grow in soil that has been contaminated by broken down plastic.
One of the biggest nuisances amongst plastics is thin plastic (below 50 microns). This material is very easily dismissed by all ragpickers and ‘bhangarwallahs’ as a useless, zero value material leading to the perpetration of the ludicrous notion that this kind of plastic cannot be recycled. Well, this is nothing but a myth. Plastic bags are made of LDPE, (Low Density Poly Ethylene)which is Plastic # 4. Yes, it’s true that international norms require all forms of plastic to have a number and only numbered plastic gets recycled. But then worldwide, there is also a ban against the manufacturing of conventional plastics below 50 microns (Bio-plastics however, can be of less than 50 microns). In India, in spite of various attempts at government bans – both successful and unsuccessful, these thin plastic bags still flourish due to their cheap cost and convenience to small vendors. However, this kind of plastic too IS recyclable.
Thin plastic bags are still being distributed by street side vendors. Photo: Manisha Gutman
The problem here lies in collection. Garbage collection is an unorganized sector in India and is normally done at an area level. Segregation of garbage needs to be done at the source of the waste, i.e. peoples’ homes. However if even a basic segregation into dry and wet waste is not done, trying to retrieve plastic bags from this mixture is near impossible. Plastic Carry Bags are generally made out of polyethylene and are used in contact with food stuffs, pharmaceuticals and drinking water, often resulting in them being wet and soiled and hence not suitable to be recycled. Most often, they’re just dumped and land up being strewn all around you or end up in landfills – both extremely unsightly and dangerous propositions for us as well as for our planet.
When you throw trash into plastic bags the bag itself becomes trash. Photo: Rashi Goel
Which brings me to why the world needs a plastic bag free day. Plastic, bags especially, has become such an intrinsic, indispensible part of our lives that most use plastic almost mechanically. A plastic bag is casually handed out by the local banyaand used with equal ease by each one of us. Now, what if just for one day, you promised yourself that you would not touch a plastic bag, come what may. Could you survive the day? Sure you could, with just a wee bit of extra thought and effort. Carry a Cloth bag with you, if a shopkeeper has no reason to give you a bag, he won’t. And if you practiced this successfully for a day, you would realize its not that hard and can be practiced for a week too, and then even for a year, until the point that it becomes a natural way of life for you.
The International Plastic Bag Free Day was started in 2010 by GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), Zero Waste Europe and Fundacio Prevencio Residus I Consum. This 6th International Plastic Bag free day seems to have gained some momentum around India too. With a recent news report stating that around 30 kgs of plastic can be found from the stomach of every cow and buffalo found in India, it is a necessity for India and Indians to sincerely observe the plastic bag free day.
Author Rashi Goel is the Project Coordinator for upcycling project Beauty of Recycling