I remember those times from my childhood when I would simply stand behind my mother and observe everyone around while she would pick fresh vegetables and fruit from the subzi mandi. She would go from one cart to another, from one fruit vendor to another enquiring the prices and then smelling each produce and touching and feeling it like it deserved every bit of investigation. She would do this all year round and most certainly on days when we would visit the bank. Summers, winters, rains, sunny, not-so-sunny… the investigation would happen. What I also remember is that she would always carry a bag with her… those which had two straight bamboo pieces stitched in thick jute material for holding the bag (thaila). And these thailas would always be from either a saree shop or some mithai wala (sweetshop). She and so many others in those days were walking advertising agencies for a Suhaag/Shringaar saree or a Chacha/Tau halwai… Always. Only until recently when she replaced the thaila with the more sophisticated looking cotton tote bags with prints of various designs and colours.
As Indians, the thaila has always been a part of our culture. So, in that sense, bring your own… is not new to us. Maybe we lost it somewhere and replaced it with the perceived convenience of plastic bags and boxes… hopefully for only a short time. It’ll be best if we are able to bring back the thaila and dubba culture back in our own lifetime.
Getting to the point. Bring your own essentially is about being self-reliant and avoiding use of packaging or items which can easily be replaced with alternatives that have longevity, can be used repeatedly and for multiple purposes. It is about saying no to single-use:
- Packaging — poly bags, takeaway boxes, plastic/paper cups, gift wraps etc.
- Utilities — single-use straw, plastic cutlery, non-refillable pens etc.
- Any other — things that have one or less function and can easily be done away with.
Unfortunately, most of the items that fall in either of the above categories are made with plastic—either partly or entirely. Here are a few numbers… India alone consumes close to 16.5 million tonnes of plastic every year and 43% of this is manufactured for single-use packaging and 80% of total plastic produced is discarded. Where does all of this discarded plastic go? It is anybody’s guess.
Also, India has piloted a resolution to phase out all single-use plastic by 2025 (revised from the earlier deadline of 2022).
Globally the production of plastic stands at 300 million tonnes and half of it is single-use items! Equivalent to the weight of entire human population! (This deserves several exclamation marks, but grammar wouldn’t allow it :/)
Waste generation that stays in the environment is one part of the problem. If this is looked at holistically, the amount of resources consumed to produce these items and the carbon footprint it amounts to is another part of the problem. Per NRDC.org, refineries that produce these plastics are one of the most greenhouse gas intensive industries.
Here are a few solutions a.k.a. a checklist that we can adopt in order to reduce our own contribution to the problem and right from our home.
ALWAYS BRING YOUR OWN…
- Thailas, bags etc. when going to shop. Keep one in the car, keep one in your bag (there are collapsible ones which can rolled into a small ball and they don’t make their presence felt)
- Reusable cutlery including straws. There are plenty of options out there… from steel, wooden to bamboo.
- Takeaway tiffin’s and boxes – Going to a restaurant or a date? Carry a small box or multiple to pack your leftovers in them. Carry a box in your bag anyway. You never know when you’d feel like having that yum ice-cream that gets served only in a cup. Remember one cup saved leads to two less in the waste-bin.
- Jars and bottles – Carry your own jars and dubbas when going for dairy or other supplies. Example: paneer, curd, idly-dosa batter, fresh juice etc. can all be bought in your own containers.
- Water bottle – This one is just too obvious and yet we end up buying mineral water bottles when we are out… re-usable bottles these days are available in several shapes, sizes and designs… pick one that you know you will use and use it. Every time.
- Menstrual kit – If you use reusable cotton pads or the cup, carry it with you during travels.
- Pens and stationery to events, seminars, workshops etc.
- Sugar and condiments – Commit a small jar or travel bottle to keep sugar in your bag. It’s a great way to avoid single-sugar-sachets at coffeeshops or restaurants.
The list can be exhaustive depending on our commitment to avoid single-use anything. How committed are you to be a part of the solution instead of being a part of the problem?
Love and Grace.