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.