Images of turtles, albatrosses and other marine species dying on account of plastic in our oceans have been doing rounds in recent years. Many of us have been pained but most of us seem to have done little. Two shocking incidents this year not only underscored this but also gave us a final warning. A warning to act now or to face a future not very different from that of these species. The first is a whale on the Norwegian shore which was so sick it had to be euthanised; 30 plastic bags (besides other garbage) were found in its stomach. The second is the publication of a report on Henderson Island. More than 37 million pieces of waste plastic were found on an uninhabited island recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its ecology! Plastic that could be traced to any of us.
Scratching even the scratch of this plastic mess, we have created, brings forth scary facts. An article by Jennifer Lavers and Alexander Bond says ‘Each piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere in the world. Plastic is with us to stay and will be in the oceans for millennia to come’. To give an idea of the scale they add ‘More than 350m tonnes of plastics are manufactured each year and that number is only going up’. A report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation states ‘at least 8m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean each year – which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050’ and that ‘Without significant action, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight, by 2050’.
All this makes it clear that there is no magical place called ‘away’ which the plastic goes to after we throw it. It continues to exist on the planet and will sooner or later re-enter our lives. Bestowing epithets and giving tags to places seldom helps. Protected Areas are not as safe as we have made ourselves believe. If anything will make a difference — in today’s world — it is our lifestyles.
Understanding where this plastic trash comes from is not very difficult. A simple mental note of our daily actions will give an idea of our role in strangling life on the planet. The list is long but even if we take just three uses in our daily lives we will comprehend the extent of the problem. One, not many of us refuse the plastic bags (when free) and only a few carry reusable bags. In addition, for many a charge of Rs 2 or Rs 5 on the bags is not a deterrent enough while for others it is an exercise of rights to take the bags. Two, people buy plastic bottles without giving a second thought and it is difficult to not come across them today wherever we move. They are akin to a curse on our environment today. Three, plastic bottles and glasses are present everywhere – restaurants and food courts, airports and stations, and tea-stalls and snack shops. For guests coming home for dinner and religious functions too we now use plastic utensils. To put these in perspective two million single-use plastic bags are used each minute and more than hundred million plastic bottles are used each day - almost none of them are recycled.
So what can we do? The crux is to avoid plastic. Irrespective of location or size of our city or town or how we fare on other life indicators we will need to decrease our use of plastic. We will need to make changes to our lifestyle rather than wait for science to develop magical organisms that can eat plastic! This does not warrant any rocket science we just need to adhere to the basics. In other words, it is neither too complicated nor too difficult. To begin with we need to believe that we can do it. Plastics will not suddenly vanish but we can decide on the plastic in our lives. Our willingness and intentions are crucial. We will also need to accept that this will result in some discomfort. Nothing in life, which is useful, comes for free. The cost for a better planet will include time and efforts.
And how? Curbing use is possible. France has become the first country in the world to ban disposable plastic cups, plates and other utensils. It used to trash more than 4.7 billion plastic cups each year. Besides laws and their implementation, we could focus on the approach. Given the extent of the mess we are in our intellectualising on the kind of plastic involved or the efforts it takes to recycle will be akin to wondering about the extent of chlorine in the swimming pool when we are drowning in one. Even in France only one percent plastic cups were re-cycled! Our focus, including that of the Swachchh Bharat campaign, is on disposal. Once we use, we discard and ensure that it does not become an eyesore. We need to change gears and focus on the stage where we generate trash.
How about moving beyond the tokenism of the Earth Hour and Bike to Work Day kind, and beyond conferences which themselves end up generating plastic trash? How about we begin to do what we can to get ourselves out of the plastic disaster we find ourselves in? To slowly but surely alter our lives – personal and professional?
Updated Date: Jun 06, 2017 14:05 PM