How To Become A Plastic-Free Family
Isn't it right to say life has become so plastic? It’s time to become plastic-free. Not for us, but for our children. The future belongs to them. Find out what you can do today, for their tomorrow!
By Sherine Paul Solomon
Take a look around your home. Are you surprised at how many plastic items you own? From storage boxes to water bottles, phone cases, toothbrushes, snack packets, carry bags, cutlery from food home delivery apps, online delivery packages - a host of daily products are made of plastic. So where does all this plastic go once you are done with it?
To quote anthropologist Annie Leonard,
“There’s no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”
In India, ‘somewhere’ is most likely the massive mountain of garbage bursting at the seams and otherwise known as the landfill in your city or scattered loose and making its way into water bodies. Though considered a cost-effective waste management method, poor administrative practices make this method a major cause of environmental pollution.
The urban Indian population produces a monstrous 62 million tonnes of garbage annually. Of this, 5.6 million tonnes is plastic waste alone. Plastic waste management is one of the biggest causes of worry the world over; India is no exception to the norm as they are unable to handle 87% of their waste properly.
According to Ecowatch, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are utilised annually globally. So what is the average time that a person carries a plastic bag? A meagre 12 minutes and only one out of 200 plastic bags are recycled – a truly alarming statistic indeed!
In a further worrying fact, it takes 10 to 1000 years for one plastic bag to decompose while plastic bottles take 450 years. If single-use plastic items get banned in India like in other countries, India will look to reduce its annual consumption of 14 million tonnes of plastic by 5-10%.
Against this grim backdrop, if each one of us take a pledge to reduce plastic in our respective homes and lives, together, we can make a huge difference to planet Earth!
Let's see how to go about it...
The Plastic Menace
The biggest pitfall of using plastic is that majority of them are non-bio-degradable. Plastic contains intermolecular bonds that neither allows it to decompose nor disintegrate. Alarming, right?
According to the Central Pollution Control Board, India generates approximately 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste on a day to day basis. To understand the magnitude of waste, that is close to the weight of 9000 Asian elephants or 86 Boeing 747 jets.
Improper disposal, leads to plastic finding its way to water bodies and clogging the waterways, and animals consuming them from garbage dumps and dying from eating too much of plastic. The nature of plastic also makes it an extremely flammable material and if due process is not followed it is a grave fire hazard.
In comparison to metals, plastics have a very short life utility wise. This, in turn, leads to piles of extra garbage at home, in the office or at dump yards. While some plastics are recycled, the bulk of them remain uncollected and add to plastic pollution. Moreover, since they are so lightweight, polythene packets are easily blown away by the wind, which leads to them getting scattered and not being recycled.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The simplest and easiest way to make a difference is by Reducing, Reusing and Recycling! Starting small and at home is the simplest way to bring about change, educating yourself and your children on the various ways to be a conscientious individual while purchasing items and disposing of them is crucial. We cover some easy eco-friendly measures later in this article that any family can start practising in their homes, starting today!
Why ban single-use plastic?
Landfills overflowing with plastic items
In India, the crux of the problem is not the amount of waste being produced but rather the mammoth chunks that remain untreated on a daily basis.
More than 70% of waste collected from urban areas is discarded directly into the landfills, leading to them overflowing way beyond their capacity.
The landfills are an accident waiting to happen as all it will take is a small spark from a lit match stick or cigarette stub to convert the dumpsites into an inferno of hazardous gasses. The landfills act as a home for toxins, greenhouse gases and leachate.
Marine life in serious danger
In another appalling statistic, the ocean is filled with at least 8 million tonnes of plastic annually. That’s equivalent to a garbage truck of plastic being emptied into the ocean each minute!
This has an adverse effect on marine life with fish, turtles and even whales either getting snared in floating fishing nets or ingesting too much plastic leading to their eventual death. Close to a million sea birds and 1,00,000 marine mammals are killed yearly by plastic in the ocean.
Studies predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than marine life. Even one of the most productive ecosystems on the earth – coral reefs are affected by the bacteria from plastic. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, warns that unless the plastic industry cleans up its act by 2050, the ocean will consist of more plastic than fish.
Plastic enters human food chain and consumption
Tiny bits of plastic debris smaller than 5mm known as microplastics have made its way into the human food chain. They can be found in daily household products like toothpaste, polyester clothing and large plastic pieces that disintegrate into smaller fragments.
Invisible to the naked eye, microplastics can pass through water filters and straight into your body. These small particles can also contaminate the air and affect agriculture or marine life. Unknowingly you could be consuming microplastics as you feast on your food. A scary thought indeed!
How to become a plastic-free family!
Here are some simple ways in which you can be a socially-responsible citizen by cutting down on plastic usage to contribute to a cleaner nation. Try these tips to reduce the use of plastic in your home.
Join the reusable revolution
One of the easiest ways to cut out plastic consumption is by replacing it with sustainable products that can be reused. Trusty alternatives to a plastic shopping bag, are bags made from cloth, coir, jute or paper. Cloth, jute and coir bags can not only hold a heavy load but also last you a long time to come.
Replace your plastic bottles with stainless steel, copper or glass substitutes and straws with stainless steel or paper alternates. Stainless steel, terracotta or ceramic cups and tumblers, steel or ceramic containers, bamboo or wooden cutting board are all great sustainable and eco-friendly items for your kitchen.
Don’t keep replacing your child’s school bag, water bottle, snack box and stationery items often. Instead, reuse the items as long as you can. Further, opt for sustainable items like a steel bottle, tiffin box and cloth stationery pouch.
Adapt to the ‘bring your own’ concept
Always store a cloth bag or foldable bag in your handbag that can come in handy any time you decide to go shopping. Storing a bag or two in your vehicle is also advisable. Carry a flask, travel mug or steel bottle with a drink of your choice.
A stainless steel straw will hardly take any space in your handbag but will do a world of good to your planet. You can also buy foldable cutlery, collapsible cups and boxes that you can use as an alternative to disposable items. In restaurants or cafes, if they offer any plastic cutlery, say no and use your own.
Also, refuse plastic cutlery that restaurants bring along, when they home deliver your food. Use your own cutlery and enjoy your meal or drink!
Look for the recycle symbol
While shopping at your local supermarket keep an eye out for the Mobius loop or recycling symbol. Indicated by three arrows in a loop, this symbol mostly specifies that the item can be recycled.
Resin Identification codes will classify the kind of plastic resin used to make the item. This is represented by three chasing arrows and a number in the centre.
The tidyman symbol is a reminder not to recycle after using but to dispose of the product in the proper manner. Also while buying beauty products avoid anything that contains “polyethene” as they are tiny plastic beads.
Use eco-friendly hygiene products
According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals; on an average, a woman is estimated to have 450 periods in her lifetime. This means around 11,000 sanitary napkins are used which weigh close to 136kgs of waste.
Sanitary products and diapers are one of the largest landfill contributors and contain close to 90% plastic. Most products are hardly recyclable and some even contain chemicals. Sanitary products have improved exponentially now and women have a host of alternative eco-friendly products to choose from.
Reusable cloth pads can be used. Rinsing it in cold water followed by a wash in the washing machine, and your pad will be as good as new! Menstrual cups take some getting used to but are a great alternative. Not only are they reusable but you can use a cup or up to 12 hours after which you empty it. The silicon cups come in two sizes and also last for a few years, they are a better alternative to pads and single-use tampons.
Period underwear is super absorbent and usually available in two variants – a leak-proof layered underwear or absorbent padded underwear with an additional leak-proof layer. Easy to maintain, a cold wash and air drying, are all that is needed. Sanitary napkins made from cotton and bamboo fibre are also available and come in recyclable bags.
The same problem arises while using diapers for babies. So what is the solution? The cheapest and best choice remains with the time tested the use of cloth diapers. They are reusable, light, chemical-free and won’t irritate your baby’s skin. Few Indian brands have gorgeous cloth diapers with lovely prints and eco-friendly qualities. If you are looking to buy green diapers made of healthier materials it should be chlorine-free, dye-free, latex-free and perfume free. There are biodegradable diapers available too that are more absorbent than the cotton ones.
Segregate your waste
The key to a well-organised waste management is to guarantee proper segregation of waste materials at the source. This will ensure that the waste goes through the correct channels of recycling and recovery.
Segregating your waste at home is an easy affair once you have gotten the hang of it. You will require three bins in three different colours green, blue and red.
Use the green bin to dispose your biodegradable waste. This will ensure that the waste is kept out of public bins. This will also safeguard stray animals from ingesting mixed waste and reduce the chance of rats spreading diseases. The waste in this bin can be used to create compost for your garden.
The blue bin should contain all your dry waste that is recyclable. This can also be used for making roads.
The red bin is exclusively for hazardous waste which includes sanitary napkins, broken glass, medical wastes, syringes, batteries, blades and hair.
If you follow this method of segregation at home you will avoid a stuffed, messy and stinky garbage dump. Start small in your own home and you are bound to make a difference to your surroundings.
and once your neighbours see the changes they will sure to follow suit. As a community, you can also educate those who are not segregating their waste properly. Lead by example!
As the famous saying goes, “Little drops of water; make the mighty ocean.” So pitch in and do your bit today for a cleaner sustainable world!
There are numerous little ways by which you can reduce plastic usage:
- Opt for wholesale products instead of smaller packets while shopping for groceries.
- You can also carry your own container to carry the new items.
- Another option would be to shop at your local farmers market where you are guaranteed to have fresh produce that is plastic-free.
- While preserving food, avoid using plastic in any form.
- If you absolutely require something that contains plastic, look into buying it from a second-hand store.
- Cut down on your purchases and look at hiring items rather than owning them.
- While shopping for clothes check the label to see if it is made from organic cotton, wool, hemp or natural fibres. Synthetic materials to avoid are spandex, polyester, nylon, lycra and acrylic – all these clothes contribute to microfiber pollution when laundered.
- While ordering food online if the option is available, do opt for the zero plastic packagings and avoid getting plastic cutlery from restaurants.
- Carry a handkerchief with you at all times and avoid using paper tissue packaged in plastic.
- Stop buying disposable products like razors, instead switch to a double-edge razor that will last you longer and contribute to less waste.
Don’t forget to take children’s birthday parties into account. While it is great fun throwing a party for your child, don’t forget the waste that can be caused by decorations, cutlery used and gift bags.
Avoid buying plastic cups, plates and straws. Though they may seem easy to discard, they are just adding to the garbage count. Instead, opt for wooden cutlery. Better still, use steel or wooden cutlery from your own home or request the caterers to bring reusable crockery and cutlery. You can also get paper straws instead of the plastic ones. Or you could cater the party at your own home and use glass dishes and utensils.
Avoid plastic banners, and instead you can personalise the birthday by making some paper buntings by hand, stringing photographs together or avoiding it altogether. Return gifts are all the rage nowadays, and no child goes back home empty-handed. Try and get gifts that can be used even at a later date. There are wonderful gift bag alternatives and you can pack the gift either in a paper, cotton or jute bag.
As a great teaching lesson, you could make sure that all the children at the party discard the waste in a suitable bin, it’s never too early to start. Your child is sure to be watching you and by setting an example they will follow in your footsteps
It would suit us well to follow the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” So start by making small changes at home as a parent, you are sure to influence your child and give them a chance at a brighter future.
About the author:
Written by Sherine Paul Solomon on 30 September 2019.
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