Opting for biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives for everyday life practices can bring us closer to ecological sustainability, says Muskaan Sharma
From carry bags for household items you purchase to the packaging your food arrives in and almost every container or bottle in your house, it is all made of plastic. Plastic has become an inevitable part of almost all our daily practices. With each amenity we use, we bring more plastic into our households and after its usage, it makes its way to the garbage bin and then gets piled up in landfills, where it stays for years till it finally decomposes. A tiny plastic bottle may take up to a 1000 years to fully decompose. To help make our planet sustainable for future generations and to keep our garbage production in check, it is important to keep in mind the way we utilise products in our daily lives.
This issue of overuse of plastic is more pertinent, now that India has been chosen to be the Global Host for World Environment Day 2018. World Environment Day 2018 will be celebrated all over the globe with the theme 'Beat Plastic Pollution'. Plastic is an immense environmental and health problem.
Every year, the world uses 500 billion plastic bags and no less than 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the seas, which is equal to an entire truck full of garbage being dumped every minute. 50 per cent of the plastic we utilize is single-use or dispensable plastic. Over 1 million plastic bottles are bought in each moment. Plastic is 10 per cent of all the waste generated on this planet.
Overuse of plastic is such that an epidemic of health and environmental hazards has been building up over the years due to it. Plastic accumulation can pollute and adversely affect humans, wildlife, and the environment. As plastic is inexpensive and durable it is used in abundance and for almost everything. Plastic pollution is causing massive harm to the quality of land, water bodies, and living organisms. The biological functions of organisms, especially marine animals, are getting deeply affected. Studies show that 90 per cent of seabirds have some sort of plastic in them.
Tackling plastic pollution is as much about waste reduction as it is about waste prevention. Reusing a product for various purposes is easy to do and saves money while reducing damage to the environment. Recycling still remains the perfect way to manage waste materials when they cannot be reused. However, due to improper garbage segregation laws, recycling in India is far from where it should be.
India generates around 56 lakh tonnes of plastic waste annually. Delhi alone generates 9,600 metric tonnes per day. In 1950, the world’s population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tonnes of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 300 million tonnes of plastic—with severe consequences for marine plants and animals. A report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, states that if this trend continues, by 2050, oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight unless people stop using single-use plastic items such as plastic bags and plastic bottles.
Seeing these figures, it is easy to observe that the severity of the situation is much more evident now as compared to the past.
How plastic affects you
Plastic usage cannot be eliminated completely, but certain types of plastics can be removed from daily usage. Microplastics or Microbeads are tiny pieces of polyethylene plastic added to health and beauty products such as some cleansers and toothpastes. They might be small in size, but keeping in mind the amount of plastic used, most of marine life has ingested plastic inside them.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “Microplastics often carry toxic contaminants and pose a real risk to food security and human health if they enter the human food chain via the fish that we eat. With an estimated 9.7 billion people to be fed by 2050, the threat of fish stocks contaminated with microplastics and their associated toxins is clear.”
The chemical process involved in creating plastics can have potentially harmful effects on humans. Over the past decade, studies have shown these effects to be carcinogenic and even interfering with hormone production. When exposed to plastic externally, effects have been seen on people’s skin as well. Dermatitis is one of the skin disorders caused by exposure to plastic due to the chemicals used in plastic production.
Inspiration around the world
India's share of plastic waste that is dumped into the world’s oceans regularly is an enormous 60 per cent. Just 10–20 per cent of the city waste we produce is recycled in an environment-friendly way and the rest is permitted to lie in the landfills. Countries all over the world have been way ahead of us in understanding the importance of proper biodegradable waste management.
France, for instance, has banned all kinds of plastic. Plastic items are replaced by biodegradable alternatives. The country aims to half their plastic usage by 2050. Rwanda, in East Africa, has actively eliminated plastic bags by banning them after they were obstructing the nation’s water bodies and harming their ecosystem. Sweden, however, has chosen to recycle and not ban plastic. By actively campaigning to fight plastic pollution, the country has adopted the mantra of ‘No Plastic Ban, Instead More Plastic Recycling'. Less than one per cent of waste from Swedish households goes to landfill dumps. Norway has implemented a plastic bottle deposit scheme. Around 600 million plastic bottles were recycled by Norway in 2016. China dropped its plastic bag usage by 50 per cent after implementing a ban on their sale. By eliminating nearly 100 billion plastic bags, China has been successful in reducing its plastic waste generation.
When talking about sustainable living, it is important to understand that reforms at every level are required. Better policies and laws from the government will surely help us reduce the impact of hazardous non-biodegradable materials on our ecosystem. However, personal reforms can bring about a massive change if implemented with consciousness and determination.
While we leave it to our lawmakers to make strict laws regarding a ban on the sale of plastic bags and installing a more effective system for waste segregation and recycling, we can do our part to help the planet. Efforts to promote eco-friendly and biodegradable products at an individual level can bring a change in attitude.
We often use plastic because it is convenient and cheap. However, there are eco-friendly alternatives to plastic products that have now become just as easy to obtain and use, thanks to the efforts of some organisations.
Tableware and Cookware
Ecoware is a manufacturer of eco-friendly food packaging. The Ecoware range of products is compostable and contains tableware, cutlery, biodegradable garbage bags, and takeaway packaging. The founder of Ecoware, Rhea Singhal, aims to fight the ill-effects of overuse of plastics and believes that if you eat healthy then what you eat out of should also be healthy for you.
Where to buy: ecoware.in/shop
Price: Starting at ₹ 32/-
Adaaya Farms offers farm-based products and supplies them to different parts of the globe. They work to produce simple and traditional leaf-based disposables for a sustainable future. These disposables include elegant palm platters now being used in wedding catering as well as restaurants. The disposables are made by baking palm leaves and putting them into moulds for different tableware like spoons, bowls, trays, etc.
Where to buy: adaayafarm.com
Price: Starting at ₹ 125/-
The conventional sanitary pad contains 3.4 g of plastic. This means that over her lifetime, the average woman will generate 23 kg of plastic from sanitary pads alone. In 2016, 150,000 tons of sanitary pad waste was produced in India.
Saathi is a manufacturing company that produces eco-friendly hygiene products made from banana fibre. The company makes use of alternative materials and follows zero-waste production. They create hygiene products that are good for the body, environment, and community. When disposed of, Saathi pads degrade within six months—1200 times faster than plastic pads. Since Saathi pads don’t contain chemicals, they provide a rash-and-irritation-free experience.
Where to buy: saathipads.com
Bumchum offers a variety of eco-friendly, chemical-free baby products like diapers, t-shirts, and muslin nappies. Bumchum products are made out of non-toxic bamboo fibre and wood pulp to ensure no harm to babies. “Often, we as new parents give in to marketing and buy products that we are made to believe are good for our children. Bumchum was born out of a need to educate young parents about the benefits of using traditional methods of raising babies, the way our grandmothers did,” says the founder of Bumchum, Amrita Vaswani.
Where to buy: bumchumdiapers.com
Price: Starting at ₹ 250/-
It seems unusual to talk about alternatives for something as measly as drinking straws. However, straws can contribute to a high amount of non-biodegradable garbage that gets dumped in the ocean and affects marine life. Disposable straws are usually made of strong plastic that never breaks down. As time goes by, the plastic separates into smaller pieces, but it never completely biodegrades. The simplest way to get rid of them is to not use them but when looking for alternatives, many eco-friendly versions of straws can be found.
Bamboo India offers a collection of unique yet versatile, beautiful, traditional, and innovative handicraft products. Bamboo India selectively harvests bamboo from local sources and provides durable bamboo-based alternatives to plastic. Apart from bamboo and paper straws, you can also buy bamboo toothbrushes, pens, cotton buds, soap cases, combs, and even bamboo speakers!
Where to buy: shop.bambooindia.com
Price: Starting at ₹ 99/-
Mumbai based Charu Shah started Saattvikaa, an organic brand of cosmetics, free from any harmful chemicals. She makes handmade products using organic essential oils, hydrosol, cold-pressed oils, natural clays, and aloe vera gel. Her products are environment-friendly, and she also creates vegan skincare and haircare products.
Where to buy: @Naturalandchemicalfree on Facebook
Price: Starting at ₹ 150/-
Preethi Sukumaran and Srinivas Krishnaswamy co-founded Krya, a cruelty-free and vegan line of herbal and plant-based home and personal care products. Their products deal with skincare related to chemical-and-pollution-aggravated skin problems. This range of natural products includes skincare, body care, haircare and ayurvedic baby skin-and-hair-care products.
Where to buy: krya.in
Price: Starting at ₹155/-
Small steps go a long way
Our advanced lifestyles leave us very little time for environmental consciousness. However, even small changes like choosing eco-friendly products over plastic products can make a massive difference over time. We don’t realise how much we can change if we gradually adopt an attitude to be friendly to our ecosystems. Whenever you step out to buy something, think about the packaging you use and the waste it will generate. When you want to use a product, try to look for more environment-friendly alternatives to it. Sustainable living with eco-friendly practices is not a choice anymore. Our planet is degrading quickly, and if the trend continues, future generations might not flourish on this planet. Being environmentally responsible is the only way ahead.
Amrita Vaswani, the founder of Bumchum, sums up the need for sustainability perfectly. “Eco-consciousness is a lifestyle choice. Once we educate ourselves about our precious resources, it then becomes a matter of incorporating that knowledge into our daily chores. It is not convenient in the beginning, but once we start to become aware of the damage we create and the waste we generate, it becomes easy to change. We should be able to differentiate between needs and wants and to create consciousness within ourselves. We all need to be advocates of change—for the sake of our own health and that of our children.
Other tips for sustainable living
Instead of plastic containers, use glass containers or steel containers to carry your lunch. Use glass containers to microwave your food instead of plastic microwave-safe containers. These may turn carcinogenic after repeated use.
Use cloth napkins instead of paper napkins
Avoid buying items that are over-packaged with foil, paper, and plastic.
Upgrade your light bulbs and choose energy-efficient CFLs or LED lights as they last longer and save up to four times more electricity as compared to bulbs.
Receive and pay your bills electronically. Generate less paper waste.
Change your transportation habits. Choose to walk when covering shorter distances and carpool whenever you can.
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