Recently, on the 5th of June, most of us took to social media to post about Environment Day: talking about saving the earth, reducing pollution, protecting wildlife etc., but considering the havoc of social media it can be assumed that these statuses could just be an outcome of our pretentiousness. Putting out a story on Environment Day and thinking that our job is done is being delusional. Are we as individuals doing anything about it?
On the evening of 5th June, I brought home a bottle of soft drink and pizza to eat with my family. While I was pouring it out in our glasses I realized that it’s Environment Day and I am holding a plastic bottle in my hand which would stay on this planet even longer than me. Plastics survive even in the harshest conditions, such as floating around in a marine environment under blistering, unrelenting sunshine or frozen into Arctic ice for years before finally floating away and landing on some faraway shore. For this reason, plastics will probably outlast humanity itself.
I could have bought canned soft drinks (which are recyclable) but that never occurred to me. This happens with most of us due to the lack of vigilance. Our brain is now habituated to use plastic products from the moment we wake up. Plastic is a component of our toothbrush, the hand-wash bottle, the packaging of the bread we eat, the packet of milk, our lunchbox, our folders, the pen we write with and almost every other thing that we use.
At the rate at which plastic is accumulating in the oceans of the planet, it’s predicted that by 2050, the mass of plastic in the world’s oceans will exceed the mass of all the fish that live there. When plastics are broken down, one large piece of plastic is reduced into a bunch of smaller pieces. These smaller pieces can be consumed by smaller animals, but are still indigestible. The plastic in the ocean gets covered with algae. As these algae die, they release some chemicals which attract other fish to feed on them and as a result these fish feed on the plastic. Wildlife gets entangled and injured with plastic products.
Keeping in mind the selfish human nature, the above reason might not be enough to stop us from using plastic products. Plastic largely affects human health too. Plastic buried in landfills drain out and seep into groundwater. Toxic chemicals leach out of plastic and are linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other such ailments. It is dreadful to know that plastic has become a part of our food chain. This disturbance in the ecosystem is a major reason for the climate changes that we are facing.
There are companies and startups trying to reuse the already existing plastic in the environment in different forms to minimize the plastic bulk on earth. Having said that, we cannot leave it all to them. As individuals we too have a responsibility to put in our efforts to minimize the plastic waste we create. If we observe the incorporation of plastic products in our life on a daily basis, it would be horrifying to know how much we are consuming. Cutting down on plastic products all at once might not be practical, but slowly and bit by bit it is achievable.
There are some small but significant steps that we can take:
- Swap polythene for cloth bags
- Switch to glass bottles, or try stainless steel bottles
- Avoid disposable dishes and cutlery
- Carry your own containers for takeaways (our homes are filling up with plastic containers when we eat out and take away, that have little sustainability beyond a few uses)
- Use natural cleaning cloths and scrubbers instead of plastic ones
- Avoid single use plastic pens, instead go for refillable ones
- Switch from plastic menstrual pads to reusable cloth pads, organic pads or menstrual cups
- Switch to biodegradable toothbrushes
These are some of the minor changes that we can blend in our life to make a substantial change. If the consumers refuse to purchase products containing plastic, the manufacturers will stop selling them. As of now it is irrefutable that plastic containing products are much cheaper than their available alternatives and as a consequence masses are attracted towards making such purchases, but as individuals all we can do is draw the attention of the authorities towards this fright; sign petitions, join protests, speak out about it but FIRST, stop usage.
Just by talking or writing a blog about it will not get the job done as it’s more than a simple conversation, it’s a lifestyle choice which is much needed these days.