Today is Earth day and what an opportune time to talk about trash. Yes the trash that we collect under our kitchen basins, in our balconies or in the tiny plastic containers in the corner of our bedrooms.
On 31st night last year, I proclaimed to my family and friends about this ambitious resolution to go plastic free. Looking back I think I should have inserted the word “trying” somewhere. I told everyone not to gift me or anyone of us anything made of plastic or wrapped in plastic. Though it is still a challenge, I am learning to communicate the intent so it sounds important to me and cordial to them.
The rubber met the road the very next day when my help told me that we were completely out of dishwashing and washing detergents. I had to get to work, keeping aside the indulgent debates about the effectiveness of zero waste lifestyle on Whatsapp groups. Needless to say, I was caught off guard and felt completely clueless. Quick search on the internet told me I could whip up some washing liquid with the help of some soap berries (ritha in hindi). Out I went to my local kirana (grocery store) to buy ritha. Glad to have found it, I told the kiranawala to empty his entire stock. (for a whole year long, I say) But it barely weighed half a kg. Also requested him to wrap it in a newspaper or a paper bag. I made sure to repeat the request enough times but it ended up in my hand wrapped in plastic. When I objected he neither understood my pain nor the request. I came back home dejected having flouted my resolution the very second day. My help looked cross having kept her waiting, I was clearly the bottleneck now. I got to work quickly and did the gross aggregate of all the youtube videos I had watched. If you need the receipt of washing liquids then don’t forget to ping me.
What I realised is that I stepped into this unprepared. Going plastic free is not a joke. Our life is essentially wrapped in it and I only realised the extent to which unknowingly we have grown dependent on it. Don’t get me wrong, plastic is not the enemy here. It is one of the most versatile human creation. Name any other thing that is light weight, malleable, durable plus cheap. On my way to work I see a few shanties along the road side. If you keenly observe few of their key possessions are made of plastics. Women use big plastic oil containers to fetch and store water, they sleep under mosquito nets, some of them have few stackable plastic chairs. During rains there is the symbolic blue tarp to cover their existence. It is a blessing for them.
But for me I have used enough of it and can afford and make efforts towards using alternate materials. It is time for course correction. So, I made a list of all the things that come into our house in plastics. Based on this I will be able to strategise which ones to work on to create the highest impact. Now I already compost my kitchen waste and use a menstrual cup. Hence the focus is on things that come in the house wrapped, packaged or carried in plastics.
After a month when our trash bin was full and I emptied it and laid it all in front of me and studied. In the zero waste circles this is called a trash audit. Here’s what I found which I guess for the efficacy of impact can be divided into three categories: daily, weekly and monthly appearances.
Milk pouches is the first thing that enters our houses every single day. Outside our households some of us have tea/coffee in plastic cups or snacks in plastic plates with plastic spoons, snack bars wrapped in plastic, small biscuits/single cookies packets, etc. These are things we might use on a daily basis.
Weekly items: bread/pav packets, candy wrappers, chocolate wrappers, khakhra/snack packets, aluminium wrappings, biscuit wrappers, hard paper packaging around ice creams, cheese and butter, juice cartons, flavoured milk, sketch pens, medicine packets.
Monthly items: Ketchup refill pouches, bournvita, washing powder, plastics of groceries items like dal, atta, rice, poha, rava, sugar, salt, tea, coffee, spices, ready made masalas, oil bottles, oil cans, tooth brushes, tooth pastes, floss, bathing soaps cartons, glue, shampoo bottles, creams, lotions, bubble wrappings and packaging around home delivered goods.
I have found mostly all of this in my trash. In short it is everywhere and in every form. Now let’s take an estimate.
For example, milk pouches come in every single day, so at the end of the year I will end up with 365 LDPE packets. Five litre oil cans made of hard plastic show up about 5-7 times at the end of the year. Bread packets maybe 50 times at a frequency of once a week. I did this analysis for each and every item found in the trash. This gave me a fair idea on what to work and where to start. Earlier I mentioned, I took a decision to switch to home made washing liquids and spend half a day every few weeks to make them. But that is something that comes in a few cans which can be easily recycled or given to the kabadiwala. Now I completely overlooked the milk pouches, eliminating that could be a relief for me and clearly more impactful. Switching to milk that comes in glass bottles is an available option and also expensive and we need to bite that bullet.
Ultimately, I hope to arrive at the total weight of plastic that our family of four generated. A World Bank study estimated that an average Indian generated about 600 gm of plastic waste each day and this is going to increase by 900 gm by 2050. So if I think that carrying a cloth bag to vegetable market will solve the problem then I am clearly delusional.
Friends and family ask me, is this going to make any difference at all? They say we are consumers and not the creator of the problem. But we are standing at the receiving end of this mess. My help doesn’t understand me, she pesters me to buy her the same old household supplies. My mom hopes my craziness will go away soon. Some tell me, you air travel and go plastic free at the same time, it’s hypocrisy.
I don’t intend to make a statement and I am on a journey. Essentially speaking we all have a choice to do our bit. To those sceptics I quote the humble poem by Julia Carney.
Little drops of water,
Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
And the pleasant land.
Thus the little minutes,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
Will share more stories as I collect them.