3rd July has been the day we recommit to stop using plastic bags. This attitudinal and behavioural change needs to start with us but also extend to others within our network of families, friends, neighbourhood, workspaces and social spaces.
A simple thing to do is to stop using plastic bags and also increase conversations on it. You could also use the international plastic bag day logo as your social media profile to generate awareness.
In the write-ups to the day there a number of articles about the marine ecosystem and to add to that list we in the mountains know how it clogs waterways/jhoras, results in landslides as well as contaminates the ecosystem causing serious environmental health issues.
We look forward to concerted action and making a difference. In Darjeeling we are starting a series of waste workshops from the 3rd of July. We will start with civil society organisations and then move to community; faith based organisations and the administration the whole of July.
Plastic age is what we live in is a common point of conversation in the Darjeeling Hills. Along with it also comes the discussion how this age is not great as the previous age in terms of longevity and health. This is a recognition of challenges we face with this plastic age.
This recognition is universal which has resulted in 3rd of July being designated as International Plastic Bag Free Day. How did we reach such a situation? The response is complex: Plastic as a material is non-biodegradable that means that it stays in our ecosystem for years clogging up jhoras, polluting precious land and contributing to landslides.
Plastic bags in most instances are a single use product with an extremely short usage time and it makes no sense to make it from a precious finite crude oil resource. Internationally, on an average a plastic bag is used for just 25 minutes. Thus use of plastic bags is extremely unfair on the future generations especially when the costs of the bags are externalised in that producers do not take responsibility of the product beyond the retail outlet.
Now that I have blamed the producers, what of our behaviour and attitude towards plastic bags. We know that it is not good yet are always demanding a plastic bag when we go shopping. It is a common scenario to buy milk in plastic bags, where did our milk cans disappear? The story does not end with our demand, how do we dispose the plastic bag: dump it in the waste vat, roll it down the hill or burn it. The waste vat invariably ends up down the hill and down the hill means clogging jhoras and contributing towards landslides. Some of them end up in the soil, destabilising it, harming precious agricultural land and also entering our food chain. Burning is not a solution, toxic carcinogenic chemical are released which becomes a part of the air we breathe. This is not how we should be treating our living environment.
In addition to all the reasons for not using the plastic bag is that many of the bags we use are not food grade which means we should not put our food into it as it contaminates our food. There are various types of plastic bags and at present we see a wave of non woven PP(polypropelene) bags in the Darjeeling Hills. The non woven PP bag looks like cloth but do note that this is also plastic and has the same harmful effects. Most people are under the impression that non woven PP bags are made of cloth and manufacturers are also pushing this idea and claiming it disintegrates easily and is eco-friendly and it does not clog drains as it is porous. To the contrary it is worse as it tears up more quickly than ordinary plastic bags so recovery is more difficult.
So all it requires of us is to say NO. No to plastic bags and use alternatives like jute bags, cloth bags, paper bags, milk cans which we used to use just a few years ago. Just this action means that our lives and the lives of the future generations are lived in fullness. It also means that a multitude of living beings in the rivers, seas and oceans have a healthy environment.
Now one might wonder why this fixation on plastic bags. Thin film plastic bags are the least needed product in our lives. For such a thin and light product the environmental damage is tremendous. True one does talk of recycling but where is the recycling chain? Recycling also takes energy which means pollution. Incidentally, recycling does not give us the same quality product but it downcycles it into an inferior product. Also as it is thin and lightweight it takes ages before we reach a point where it makes sense for kabadiwalas to recover it.
So all we need to say is No to Plastic Bags and also tell others about it too in order our lives and the lives of our children become safer.
Is Democracy a Festival?
Guess cannot beat the election fever and thought that the flex (muscle, idea, money and waste…ps the flex is from the election commission and the red pandas are wearing bhes bhusa of the people of Darjeeling Hills ) at Chowrastha and the song from across the Mechi river is quite a thought to process come election day in the tumultuous Darjeeling Hills….
What materials can we do away with?
- Invitations/Communications (most) can go as an email with explicit instructions not to print as far as possible.
- Participants travelling by train should travel without printing their tickets as Indian Railways allows and recommends it.
- Directions to the Event venues need not be printed by participants
- In-case volunteers are posted at Railway Stations and Airports, for their means of identification printed cards for each person is not needed but just a standard poster with maybe the Event written will suffice. Even better would be that the volunteers are identified by specific clothes like t-shirts etc. This could then be communicated to the participants.
- Vehicles for the Event need not have the Event printed and posted or an alternative could be used like recycled paper or discarded packaging material (like cardboard/inside of a tetra-pack)
- The welcome pack of the Event should have as minimal printouts as possible. We believe with the extensive use of technology today, digital copies will be fine with people as long as they are communicated about the rationale in advance.
- The bag (that might be given) could be locally woven using natural fibres or recycled materials and explicitly mentioned for its sustainability and equity.
- It would be great if the participants brought their own pens or pens made out of recycled material can be sourced. The same holds true for writing pads and plastic folder too. We are getting more and more used to getting a welcome pack of paper pen and folder which we could easily do away with if everyone came with their own.
- For name tags, discarded materials like inside of a tetra pack works great and looks pretty cool.
- A conscious effort is made not to use Flexs. Banners promote local livelihoods too, banners can be made of recycled cloth like old bedsheets, table covers etc.
- Group work could use green board or look at means of limiting the use of paper for group work presentation. In any case more and more people work on power points for their group work presentation which should be promoted.
- All materials emerging from the THE EVENT could be circulated online or circulated amongst participants through pen drives/drop box instead of printing or using CDs.
- Conference releases/gifts etc should be wrapped in recycled paper or paper and not plastic wrappers
- PLEASE ADD TO THE LIST
- Food should be sourced as far as possible locally which reduces its carbon foot print and supports local economy. Looking at it from the slow food perspective would be great.
- Use of locally produced biscuits or other snacks instead of packaged snacks could be used.
- No throw away plastic or paper products are used to serve food and beverages
- Food waste could be linked well in advance with people who rear cattle/pigs as feed
- Peels could be composted and maybe a local organisation could initiate it and highlight it as a means of addressing bio-degradable waste. A good media campaign could be initiated so that the larger community could take home composting forward if in-case the local community does not have a strong composting culture.
- At the conference instead of sweets in wrapping paper local hard boiled sweets could be used removing the notion of wrapping paper waste.
- PLEASE ADD TO THE LIST
- Instead of bottled water, boiled and filtered water kept at strategic places would totally reduce the use of PET bottles which are definitely a fall out of summits and workshops. Along with this, provisions of glass or steel tumblers instead of plastic/paper cups. Amazing would be if all the participants would come with their own drinking bottles. This non-use of bottled water should extend to hotels and field visits too.
- Rain water and grey water use should be promoted. If provisions are not there at the venue, possibilities of temporary structures could be looked into which then can be a take away for the venue on the long run. This could be applicable to homestays/hotels/guest houses
- PLEASE ADD TO THE LIST
- Use of electricity should be optimised in terms of technology and the simplest of it being switching it off when not in use
- Car pools would be great from pick-ups to drops to make best use of cars plying. This does require some co-ordination but nothing impossible. This should include pick up and drops from airports and train stations.
- PLEASE ADD TO THE LIST
1. Reduction of shampoo sachets at Chitray car wash. Vice Chairman Darjeeling Municipality to officially launch it at 9:30 am at Chitray. Each car uses at least one shampoo sachet when it gets washed and the sachets gets thrown into the jhora. An average of 100 sachets are thrown everyday. We hope to reduce it by enabling the car wash to use large bottles rather than sachets.
2. Club Side Taxis with a waste bag so that the passengers do not throw their waste randomly. Vice Chairman Darjeeling Municipality to officially launch it at 12 noon at Club Side.
3. Discussion on our research ‘De-mystifying “Chokho Pani” as the interface between Society, Religion and Environment in Darjeeling’ a study we undertook to explore issues of everyday religion and sustainable environments in the Himalaya. The study was part of the larger initiative under India China Institute, New York supported by Henry Luce Foundation and was undertaken in Nepal and China too. The Indian part of the study was headed by Dr. Mahendra P. Lama JNU. Discussion at Darjeeling Goodwill Centre at 3:30 pm.
EDITORIAL: How do you like your food, sir?
by Sunita Narain
My local vegetable vendor sells ordinary lemons packed in plastic bags. It got me thinking if this is a sign of improving standards of food safety and hygiene. After all if we go to any supermarket in the rich and food-processed world, we will find food neatly packed so that there is no contamination through human hands. Then there is the army of food inspectors, who check everything from the processing plant to the supplies in restaurants. The principle is clear: the higher the concern for food safety, the higher the standards of quality and consequently, the higher the cost of enforcement. Slowly, but surely, small producers get pushed aside. This is how the business of food works.
But is this the right model of food safety for India? It is clear that we need safe food. It is also clear that we cannot afford to hide behind small producers to say that we should not have stringent standards for quality and safety. We cannot also argue that we are a poor developing country and our imperative is to produce large quantities of food and reach it to the large (and unacceptable) number of malnourished. We cannot say this because even if we are poor and hard-pressed to produce more and reach more food to people, we cannot ignore the fact that we are eating bad food, which is making us ill. This is one of the many double burdens we carry.
The other double burden concerns the nature of “unsafe” food. The most noxious of problems is adulteration—when people deliberately add bad stuff to food for profit. In India, milk mixed with urea or chemical colour added to chilli are just the tip of the adulteration iceberg. We know we need effective enforcement against it. But it is also a fact that these scandals are not confined to India. A few years ago, melamine-contaminated milk killed babies in China. Now horsemeat sold as beef is sending Europe into a tizzy. There are unscrupulous people in this business that concerns our body and well-being.
The second worry is regarding the safety of what is added to food when it is processed. This is not adulteration because in this case additives permitted under food standards are used. The question is whether we know enough about their side effects. Invariably and sadly, science finds out the problems too late. For instance, there has been a huge row over dangers of artificial sweeteners, first saccharine and then aspartame. In the world of industrially manufactured food, the problem also is that each product is backed by vested interests that claim it to be safe till proved otherwise.
Often we know very little about the additives allowed in our food. For instance, we eat vanilla thinking it is the real queen of spice, flavouring
ice creams and cakes. Little do we know that most of the vanilla in food is made synthetically, and that this chemical, believe it or not, has been harvested from effluent waste of paper mills or coal tar components used in petrochemical plants. It is cheap and it has been passed for human consumption by the food and drug administration of different countries.
The third challenge comes from the toxins in our food—chemicals used during the growing and processing of food which even in miniscule quantities add up to an unacceptable intake of poisons. Exposure to pesticides through our diet leads to chronic diseases. The best way is to manage the food basket—calculate how much and what we eat—to ensure that pesticide limits are set at safe levels. We have no option but to ingest a little poison to get nutrition, but how do we keep it within acceptable limits? This means setting safe pesticide standards for all kinds of food.
Then there are toxins which should not be present in food at all. For instance, a few years ago, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) found antibiotics in the honey sold in Indian markets. It was there because industrial honey farmers fed bees antibiotics as a growth promoter and for disease control. Ingesting antibiotics makes us resistant to drugs. CSE needed, and got, standards for antibiotics in honey produced for the domestic market. There is no denying that small producers of honey, who do not have the capacity to handle the additional burden of paperwork and inspectors, can be hit badly. But this does not mean we should allow the use of antibiotics in our food. Or does this mean we change the business of food so that it is safe, yet protects livelihoods?
There is a fourth food challenge, which may just provide answers to this question. Food has to be not just safe, but also nutritious. Today, the world’s panic button has been pressed on the matter of food that is junk—high on empty calories and bad for health. There is more than enough evidence that bad food is directly linked to the explosion of non-communicable diseases in the world. There is enough to say that enough is enough.
The answer is to think of a different model for the food business. It cannot be the one-size-fits-all design of industrial production. It must be based on societal objectives of nutrition, livelihood and safety first and profit later. If we get this right, we will eat right.
To post your comments on this editorial online, please visit http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/how-do-you-your-food-sir
Science and Technology: Chemical connection
Prolonged exposure to pesticides can lead to Type-2 diabetes
Prolonged exposure to pesticides can lead to Type-2 diabetes