One small step...
On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and said, “One small step by man, a giant leap for mankind.”
Now, a little flashback. In 1907, that is, some five decades before the moon landing, Leo Baekeland invented the first fully synthetic polymer, which was named after him, Bakelite. Like the moon landing, it was also a small step that was destined to be a giant leap for mankind.
Plastic established itself as one of the most important discoveries of the twentieth century without which our modern day life is simply unthinkable. Just look at your school bag, your study table, your gaming device…and our ever-increasing plastic waste!
Now imagine we call the Pied Piper of Hamelin and ask him to play a tune that will remove every bit of plastic and zoop! We can get rid of our plastic waste but at the same time, we will have to say "goodbye" to our roller skates, badminton rackets and cricket balls. Not so good news, right?
But wait, why are we blaming the plastic, which is a chemical, for being the bid, bad villain? After all, we can’t forget that there is an economic aspect to why plastic items are widely preferred. Things made of plastic are cheaper than those made of wood or metal. And if we use things properly, plastic can become a hero.
With very simple and humble steps. Here’s a look at the alternatives to some of the most used items in our daily lives:
A (fountain) pen is greener than a ball pen
It was the year 1999. I was merely nine years old and my brother had bought a gel pen, the first one I had seen in my life. While I was still using pencils, the pen caught my fancy and that is how my nearly 20-year-long affair with gel pens began.
The fountain pen was already a thing of the past and by the time I got to used gel pens, they would cost as low as Rs 15-20 per pen. From just one pencil till Class III, I was buying a minimum of 3-4 pens a month by the time I reached Class X. And by 2010, all members of my family had discarded ink pens. Now, they are just a showpiece kept along with other ancient items on the collectors’ shelf. Banned from a life of utility, they are now as obsolete as the dinosaurs! So, why is this a problem?
Now I realize that this old, humble and discarded fountain pen is an effective tool to save the green. It lasts longer and generates very little waste.
Go for mechanical "push" pencils
Each of us has taken our first step into the world of knowledge with the help of this wooden writing instrument named pencil. But since we know a huge number of trees need to be cut down to make pencils, why not switch to viable alternatives like mechanical pencils or "push pencils". Well, it’s also made of plastic but it lasts long, pretty long. Nowadays, mechanical pencils made of steel are also available but these are costlier than plastic ones. And going by our habit of misplacing pencils/pens, it’s advisable to opt for the cheaper plastic ones.
Water bottle, tiffin box: Made of plastic or metal?
Now it’s not a secret that plastic is harmful to our environment as it’s non-biodegradable. Some of your smarter classmates may even tell you that the average life of a plastic bottle is 450 years! However, thanks to our habit of losing, we often need a new bottle in less than 450 hours. (Just kidding) So, isn’t it a wise solution to opt for a steel thermos flask or a steel/glass water bottle? Maybe. Unlike plastic, it’s reusable and it doesn't cause as much harm to the environment. So let’s choose steel-made tiffin boxes, instead of plastic ones.
Bamboo paper to cover books and copies
Book covers were essentially discovered to make our boring textbooks a little interesting. It has another important function of providing space for a special talent in us, that is, to see how our books or copies react with water, milk, fruit juice and butter. Gone are the days when we used brown paper. Nowadays, even that fuss is gone from our life because now we use water-resistant plastic as cover. How boring!
So why not use bamboo paper to cover textbooks and copies? And you can still claim those brownie points for cleanliness from your teacher by telling how bamboo keeps the planet clean. And don’t forget to tell her that the water spill on the cover was essentially a part of the experiment you were conducting to see how a paper reacts with water!
How about pencil bags?
In an attempt to get the best pencil box, we are often tempted to buy that one model featuring our favourite superhero or cartoon character. But why plastic? Cloth-made pencil bags or steel-bodied pencil boxes can also do the work.
Full marks to Denmark
Five years ago, Denmark had the dubious distinction of being Europe’s filthiest nation where a single citizen produced 759 kg of waste per year. However, today, the European nation is known for having reduced food waste by 25 per cent. How? Simple! It opened zero-waste stores where all items—from cereals to shampoo to creams—were sold without cardboard covers. Stores use bottles and boxes made of glass or wood to store dry as well as liquid products. Consumers are asked to either take them in organic carry bags and bottles available at the store or bring their own bags and tiffin boxes for the same.
Now, what are we doing? To get the answer just go to any online shopping website and place an order, say a pencil box. Now wait for a few days and you will get your pencil, but along with layers of packets over boxes over packets. Absolutely free!
Here are a few boxed items that can reduce waste by leading an un-boxed life:
Carry a carry bag
Shopping is our new national hobby. And most of us take this hobby quite seriously. For every item we buy, from vegetables to fruits to stationary to milk and bread, we ask for a polybag. But we can avoid these by using bags made of cloth, nylon. All we need to do is to politely say “No” to polybags. It’s that simple.
Water fountains waste less, save more
Water fountains are the best alternatives to water coolers. Not only do they reduce water use, but they also do away with the need for plastic glasses. Mohammad Mazharul Haque, managing director of the Delhi-based Oasis WFS Private Ltd, says, "We have been offering efficient drinking solutions to schools and offices since 2012. They also happen to be cheaper in the long run.”
"While the most affordable water fountain is priced at Rs 18,000, its annual maintenance cost is Rs 70,000 (approx)," adds Haque. This comes down to an annual investment of nearly Rs 90,000.
On the other hand, a regular/conventional water cooler requires a yearly investment of around Rs 1.3 lakh (purchase and maintenance cost included), or Rs 40,000 more than the annual cost incurred on a water fountain.
Say "yes" to recycled paper for projects
Schools have multiple ways to intrude on your holidays—one way is homework and the other way is through projects. But every year, a huge amount of paper waste is generated in the process. The irony is that a project on proper waste management ends up doing the exact opposite by creating more waste. So, why not ask schools to recycle paper used in projects? This would not only provide a real-life example for students to learn and replicate best practices on waste management, but also help cut down the paper waste generated every year.
One step at a time
Just like your stomach can’t take too many golgappas at a time, there is also a limit to how much plastic waste the Earth can handle without tipping the scales of ecological balance. Each of us can make these simple choices in life and help protect the only home we have in this universe.
What is “older” & “grander” than our grand-ancestors?
In 2015 alone, the world generated some 630 crore metric tonnes of plastic waste. This is a big problem as plastic is a super resilient substance. It has already outlived our ancestors from 5-6 generations and is destined to outlive us as well. This is because plastic items like the carry bags we use for daily shopping can exist in landfills without decomposing for a period of 10-10,000 years. So the plastic waste we are generating today will definitely remain as it is for the next three centuries to come!
What is a refill?
The answer to this rests with the predecessor of ball pens and gel pens– the ink pen. The ink pen uses a mechanism allowing the refilling of ink every time a pen runs dry. This is done by using a dropper or a piston-based mechanism. This refilling does not happen with ball pens and gel pens. Instead, we only get mass-manufactured/readymade plastic refills. So, why can’t our pen makers design such ball pens and gel pens?