to plastic or not to plastic

the world has lost a lot while it gains whatever it does at the cost of all it loses.

sometimes i just stare at graphs like the one below. i look at the year that i was born in. i trace the production or consumption graph from that year, until i get to something recent. that’s when i realise the scale, the enormity of what we have done.

chart from https://ourworldindata.org/

then i translate the quantitative graph in my head. i think about my childhood. and how things were then. and now. and within my own life i begin to see the graph coming to life. my grandparents used to save plastic bags they got from the occasional trips home that my aunt made. and these bags were used to store our most precious heirlooms. protect the silk from the bugs. a hilton hotel laundry bag from the ’80s. and now. everything just comes wrapped in plastic. and there’s more. so much more. coming through the door.

so where does that take us. to a world of plastics. and its alternatives. “better plastic” they say. “plant based plastics”. “cotton, not plastic”. “non woven bags”. so many choices. where do we go from here?

its not easy making choices. especially when every product…whether its plastic or something as innocuous as the coffee you are drinking, has an environmental impact. so how do we manage this?

here are a few tips that may help

REUSE

use whatever you have as much as possible. every instance of usage reduces the per unit environmental impact of the product. i have a horrible analogy and hopefully it will make things clearer.

imagine an enormous plate full of a 1000 kgs of rice. and imagine if only 2 people were to consume it in one day. they’d get sick quickly enough…that’s 500 kgs of rice to eat! but imagine if we shared that…with a 1000 or even better…2000 people. then everyone would get a very manageable 500 grams of rice to eat. the environmental impacts of products are somewhat like that.

the more number of times you use a product, the smaller the environmental impact allocation is for each use-case. so just remember reuse. everything. especially plastic.

REDUCE

an alternative to plastic may sound like exactly what the world wants. but that is a bit like the old adage. be careful what you wish for. or with great power comes great responsibility. basically everything has an opposite embedded inside it. there is no perfect solution. there is no magic pill.

you want a better world? a world where the seas are not choking with plastic? stop using plastic. but that does not mean you replace it with paper. because that would mean you are going to see a world with less trees, or more climate change because paper processing uses more fossil-fuel based energy. it does not mean you go out there and get cotton bags because that means more land gets transformed to cotton plantations. and so on. the alternative to plastic is not another material. it is not wanting to have to use any material at all.

REFUSE

the trite saying goes- be the change you want to see.

but i think the better version is…if you want to change something, change the underlying system. we are the product of a system that encourages consumerism. short product-lives. fads. changes.

there are legions of the “best minds of my generation” sitting in board rooms. they are paid to figure out ways to make us consume more. i know because i was one of them. that was the only question that i was paid to think over day and night. how do i get my “target group” to consume more, use more, buy more.

it is time that we question the consumption, the purchase, the need to want what we do. where did that come from? how does it affect me and my community? why do i want this? why do i want it in the way it is given to me? can i change something?

yes you can. but you have to figure that out yourself.