“Its only one straw, said 8 billion people. -Unknown
The century we live in has modelled the world to be a place of extreme comfort and ease. There has never been a time like this were everything we need is at our fingertips. Technological and industrial advancements have peaked to the sky and the convenience it provides has shoved the whole of humanity into a corner called the ‘comfort zone’. If we take our eyes of the screens for a moment to stare down at our dear mother Earth, the sight in store is grim.
Our oceans floors are teaming with plastic waste. Marine animals face the threat of extinction from consumption of poisonous waste dumped into water bodies. As more and more landfills get dug up, soil pollution is on the rise. Hazardous chemicals and aerosols in waste pose health threats to every living being on the planet. All of this has contributed to the elephant in the room, climate change. Our planet is burning and it is our individual responsibility to put out the fire and rebuild our only home.
‘The greatest threat to our planet is to believe that someone else will save it.’- Robert Swan
At the individual level, we must first focus on the waste that we produce on a daily basis. This would largely include food waste, packaging, electronics and clothing. We could start off with the tried and tested idea of the 3Rs- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
Recycling has always been the fairy god-mother that magically transforms every plastic trash into usable items. Unbeknown to us is that about half of all the recyclable products never get recycled. The chain of transporting and processing waste adds to a very significant amount of carbon emissions. Many countries such as China, Indonesia, and Vietnam that used to import and process recyclable plastic waste have stopped doing so. As a result plastic gets dumped in landfills all over the world and eventually end up in oceans or get burnt up, adding to the ever growing carbon footprints. This leads us to the only resort we have which is to reduce and reuse.
With increasing awareness on the urgent need to shift to eco-friendly lifestyle, you might have come across #zerowaste trend on almost all social media platforms. A zero-waste lifestyle is one in which the individual actively reduces their waste consumption, designs their life to avoid acquiring things that will end up as trash especially disposable and non-recyclable products and packaging. The concept of zero waste is not just an ongoing trend. It is here to stay, to revolutionize our fight against non-biodegradable waste. You might have come across zero waste enthusiasts on social media, squeezing in all the waste produced in a year, into a single mason jar. While such drastic lifestyle changes may be hard to implement, the process of getting started is a piece of cake. The smallest step we take each day, simply ensuring that the waste we produced today was a little less than that of yesterday will make all the difference.
The first step in dealing with waste is its segregation. All you need are two bins, one for biodegradable waste and the other for non-biodegradable waste. Make sure to use up all the biodegradable waste as manure for your plants. It serves dual purpose of purifying the air and reducing carbon footprints. If you live in a bigger space with some ground to spare, you might as well prepare composts out of the waste. The mantra here is ‘anything organic goes into the compost.’
It cannot be right to manufacture billions of objects that are used for a matter of minutes, and then are with us for centuries. Roz Savage
Commercialization and mass production of plastic began in the 1950s. Plastic takes about 450 years to breakdown. So does it really come as a surprise when we hear that around 60% of all plastic ever produced is still present on our planet? Not a day passes by without digital media feeding us pictures of marine animals choking on plastic. Plastic has infiltrated every aspect of environment, making its way even into our own guts by entering the food-chain. Only less than 10% of all the plastic produced actually gets recycled. Hence the best way to combat plastic waste is not recycling but reducing. A few simple ways to carry this out are as follows.
Avoid plastic bags provided in shops or groceries by carrying your own cloth or jute bags. Always keep spare cloth or jute bag in the trunk of your vehicle to never find the excuse of forgetting them.
Opt for fresh supplies of fruits and vegetables instead of the ones wrapped in plastic.
Carry a bottle or two of water with you at all times, so that you never have to rely on water packed in plastic bottles. Bottles made of stainless steel are sustainable and last a life time.
A big step towards reducing plastic usage is replacing it with eco-friendly alternatives. For every plastic product out in the market, a biodegradable alternative is available. Every canned drink can be replaced by eco-friendly packaging. From wooden tooth brushes, combs and biodegradable ‘seed pens’ to sustainable electronics, it is all out there waiting for our approval. A common belief that plagues the society is that anything organic or sustainable comes with a high price tag. However, a wise decision to invest your money in sustainable products goes a long way in making sustainability the ‘new normal’.
It could also serve as a way to watch your expenditure, health and to de-clutter your living space. If you go shopping with the intention of buying only eco-friendly products, you will automatically scan each product you choose to buy. You would carefully read the labels and the ingredients. This way you become a conscious consumer, spending money only on the essentials, making sure the product is good for your health and above all ensuring that no carbon footprint is left behind.
In the run to be as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible, one should never discard the fact that burning non-biodegradable products is not a solution. In fact it adds weight to a bigger problem, air pollution. The plastic we burn turns invisible to our eyes, but it remains in the atmosphere for us to breathe.
So what do we do with the plastic waste we have inevitably generated?
In order to take responsibility of the waste we generate we must find out how it’s being processed. Spare a few minutes of your schedule to locate a reliable plastic recycling enterprise in your locality. Enquire on how the plastic is being put to use and if its environment friendly. There are start-ups in India that produce bricks from waste plastic (Plastiqube); Roads made using waste plastic have improved durability (This technology was developed by the Plastic Man of India, Prof Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Professor of Chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai). Regularly supplying your plastic waste to such programs will not only eliminate plastic from your household but also helps uplift the economy of such small enterprises.
‘Humans were far better at inventing tools than using them wisely.’- Yuval Noah Harari.
Electronic waste is a new addition to the never ending list of pollutants that humans have created. What happens to these items once they are discarded? They end up in landfills or water bodies exposing us to harmful chemicals. One viable solution is to give our old gadgets to refurbishing factories that recycle the parts.
Clothing is another factor that adds on to the heaviness of landfills. While donating clothes maybe common, thrifting is a concept lesser known in India, but widely practiced in most of the developed countries. A thrift store sells gently used clothing, furniture, and other household items at a discounted price. Thrifting helps reduce the amount of clothing produced through manufacturing, a process that is very taxing on the environment.
Now that we have covered possible solutions, it is now only a question of implementing them. Caught in the hustle craze to make it big, many often fall prey to mental disorders such as anxiety, depression etc. One solution to this is mindfulness and meditation. While meditation is a huge sensation, only few realize that it is simply the art of being aware of your thoughts and actions. You might wonder what relevance it holds in the context of waste management. With the social media platforms manipulating our thoughts and behaviors luring us into hoarding up on everything unnecessary, the moment right now is to realize that we have a conscience that can help us make the right choice. Being aware of our needs, making the conscious choice to pick only the most essential product which is also eco- friendly is indeed a true practice of mindfulness.
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. -Jane Goodall
We are the ones setting the example for the future generations to come. Children become what they learn from adults around them. This is why we must always ensure that our gestures teach kids to nurture and care for Mother Nature. Waste management must be given the same importance as subjects that shape careers. An ignorant scholar who has not a care in the world for environmental issues is as much a burden to the earth as is waste.
As each one of us begins to make tiny life style changes to become more sustainable, we are indirectly influencing those around us to wake up and do their bit as well. As Paulo Coelho once said, the world is changed by your example, not by your opinion. When our collective gestures begin to align with nature, change has already manifested and it makes all the difference.