“Plastic-ene”

By Gauri Gharpure On a recent family vacation, I happened to visit a quaint little coastal village called Diveagar in the Kokan region of western Maharashtra, popular among tourists for its beaches and homestays. I was looking forward to going to the beach and walking on the sandy shore with sea spray on my face and the wind in my hair. But as I approached the beach, all these expectations went into the drain as I came upon this view:

A huge stretch of the beach was like this: water bottles, cosmetic bottles, food packaging material and other random plastic items among sea shells and exoskeletons of marine creatures. It was disturbing to see so much trash in a relatively untouched place. The whole scene got me thinking of how it may have started. I think one of the most important contributors is the rise in our ‘throw-away’ culture. There has been an increase in the amount and type of disposables we use everyday. Most food items, especially fresh produce, are wrapped in plastic to increase their shelf life. Such plastic wrap has been shown to leach hazardous chemicals into the food [1,2] and also choke unsuspecting wildlife. A series of pictures by National Geographic brought home the point really well a few years ago [3]. A number of articles have also critically examined this phenomenon [4,5,6] . It is not new that these “hidden plastics” are causing tremendous harm. Then why is it that nothing seems different in our attitude towards this? I suspect it is because we do not see the impact of our actions immediately and so, with our “chalta hai” (“it’s fine”) attitude, we tend to prioritise convenience over everything else. A simple exercise, where you think about the future journey of the item, might help. Think about what will you do in these situations: where will you throw away the plastic tag on the bread packet? What about the microbeads in the face wash? What will you do with the container your food was delivered in? Once you think of all this, you yourself will think of alternatives to reduce these types of wastes: you can opt for bread from bakeries wrapped in paper, or use natural scrubs like powdered walnut shells. You can even start to cook and source fresh produce from local shops instead of ordering packaged groceries from supermarkets. There are plenty of people who offer such sustainable alternatives and work towards spreading awareness about sustainable living. Once you start, you will find plenty of ways and options to choose from [7, 8, 9, 10].

Such small steps will pool together and make a difference. After all, this pollution was not caused by a single person in a single day and so it will need sustained collective effort to make a difference (read about the butterfly effect [11]).

So when in doubt, just think of which of these sights you would prefer. Ultimately, if one thinks of the consequences our actions have and takes responsibility for them, the world will be a much better place.

Pictures by Gauri Gharpure

References:

  1. Groh, K. J., Backhaus, T., Carney-Almroth, B., Geueke, B., Inostroza, P. A., Lennquist, A., … & Warhurst, A. M. (2018). Overview of known plastic packaging-associated chemicals and their hazards. Science of the Total Environment.
  2. Ibarra, V. G., de Quirós, A. R. B., Losada, P. P., & Sendón, R. (2018). Identification of intentionally and non-intentionally added substances in plastic packaging materials and their migration into food products. Analytical and bioanalytical chemistry, 410(16), 3789-3803.
  3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/planetorplastic/
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/13/waste-plastic-food-packaging-recycling-throwaway-culture-dave-hall
  5. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/10/stark-truth-long-plastic-footprint-will-last-planet/
  6. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20180705-whats-the-real-price-of-getting-rid-of-plastic-packaging
  7. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution
  8. https://www.thebetterindia.com/144223/news-india-pledge-beat-plastic-pollution-2020-5-steps-fast-tracking-process/
  9. https://www.thebetterindia.com/195267/lifestyle-fresh-fruits-vegetables-shelf-life-storage-tips-beeswax-wraps-grocery-bags/
  10. http://www.greeneducationfoundation.org/nationalgreenweeksub/waste-reduction-tips/tips-to-use-less-plastic.html
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

 

 

 

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