For #plasticfreejuly, this is the third part of a four-part series highlighting some of the needs of the hour of plastic waste pollution through worldwide and India specific stats along with first-hand insights from Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India staff and interns.
Last week we explored the insights of Bare Necessities’ two interns who have vastly different backgrounds- one from England and one from India- about how they view waste (click here for Part 2). While the week before we delved into the thoughts and perspectives from the manufacturing team (click here for Part 1), which consists of four women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, in relation to how their relationship with waste has changed since beginning employment in a business that focuses on zero waste- Bare Necessities promotes the adoption of zero waste practices, circular economy methodology and sustainability to consumers and businesses throughout India and further abroad.
This week I had the good fortune to gather information from two members of Bare Necessities team who have been central to day to day operations and the growth of the business. Longest-serving, Sonal has known the founder of the zero waste business since childhood and has helped the business mature and grow in scale since 2016. Comparatively, Prakash has only been here for a short period of time, a little over 6 months, but has had an influential hand in business operations since he moved from an organic company to Bare Necessities.
Their knowledge of how products (that currently lead to plastic waste) can be viewed in the overall marketplace found in India and further abroad has developed because of working for a social business that focuses on creating products that work within a cradle to cradle methodology- an approach where “it is necessary that recyclability is already considered during the design phase of a product. All technical and biological processes must be environmentally compatible so that products can even be beneficial instead of simply being less bad” (source). Fortunately they, and every other individual on the planet, have also been provided with a blueprint on how to live and be a responsible consumer who understands why sustainability is needed, the blueprint is documented in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (source). For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing in particular on:
- Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production- “Achieving economic growth and sustainable development requires that we urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources.... The efficient management of our shared natural resources, and the way we dispose of toxic waste and pollutants, are important targets to achieve this goal. Encouraging industries, businesses and consumers to recycle and reduce waste is equally important, as is supporting developing countries to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption by 2030” (source).
While the impacts of linear methods of consumption and production, a cradle to grave methodology (source), will be portrayed in relation to:
‘I have always been keen and inclined to support local artisans, practices, crafts and ideas,’ Sonal noted. ‘To me, working at Bare Necessities was a great way to build something that was raw, rustic, unadulterated and beautiful. I thought it deserved all the support and opportunity to come at par with the chaotic consumer market that exists.’ The sights of the consumer culture are easily witnessed on market streets here in India along with many other locations around the world. The sheer scale and expansion of these methods is depicted succinctly by Prakash, ‘years ago there wasn’t much waste in the village where I grew up but now there is lots of plastic waste. It keeps growing, I really think this problem has developed over a long period of time due to the practices that have been adopted.’
The simple question is, how can we move away from these practices that affect the climate:
- A “large chunk of emissions comes from something that you probably don't even think about trash. The decomposition of municipal waste is one of the largest human-produced sources of methane emissions in the world. Although we hear endless chatter about carbon emissions (and for good reason), methane emissions are just as troublesome: methane is 20 times more potent by weight than carbon dioxide. In landfills, methane gas is produced during the decomposition of solid waste: small microbes 'eat' the waste, producing gaseous methane as a byproduct for several decades” (source).
Life below water:
- “There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes... Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined... 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million seabirds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually" (source).
And, life on land:
- “In February this year (2019), veterinarians operating on a bloated and infected six-year-old cow brought into the Bihar Veterinary College in Patna removed 80 kilogrammes of plastic from its stomach. Though this was not the first time that doctors had removed polythene from an animal’s stomach, 80 kilogrammes of it from a single animal was something of a record” (source).
Sonal’s journey highlights similar problems, “I remember my grandmom churning the idli batter in a very old vessel and big ladle, at home every single week. She used to make it right from scratch - soaking the rice, grinding the batter, fermenting etc. Today, we've moved on to buying ready-made batter from the store which is obviously stored in plastic packets. This is the same story with milk - the transition from milking cows in front of you to buying pre-packed plastic milk pouches every single day was rapid. I think this is the overall consumerism that we've accustomed ourselves to. Our definition of 'convenience' has taken a very big toll on not only the environment but also health!’
I know it all sounds devastating...
But don’t lose hope, dear reader…
‘Before (I began understanding the plastic waste crisis), I didn’t mind using a plastic straw from a coconut vendor but today I don’t mind getting wet while trying to drink coconut water directly from the shell. Small steps have definitely increased my awareness and habits around this!... I've completely shifted to bamboo toothbrushes and have become the official dispenser of toothbrushes at home. I carry my bag and water bottle while travelling. I refuse all things made up or wrapped in single-use plastics… I look for alternatives to basic everyday items wrapped in plastics - milk packets, cut vegetables, food delivery packs etc… There is more awareness and we are constantly evolving… reduction and reuse are the most immediate steps.’
What did I mention? We mustn't lose hope. Sometimes in order to understand the great threats to our way of life we can get caught up in the terrible loss of life at sea, the cows with an ocean of plastic in their stomachs and the polluted air that we breathe. When instead, that is only the first step in our evolution towards a more sustainable way of living. I doubt any of you reading this article will not know the extent of the plastic waste crisis. Yet, I myself can be bogged down in the stats and figures that accost us each day. During those moments I am paying little heed to the fact that there are simple solutions in all of our days to day lives that are making enough little differences to matter. It is only when I step out of that bogged down pool of figures that I can start to see passed the overwhelming forest of microplastic.
How can we become more conscious consumers? Whether the evolution has to start with “shopkeepers and vendors fear(ing) a hefty fine from inspectors who are tasked with keeping (Mumbai) free of plastic bags.” Where the “blue squad – middle-aged and greying – (who) may not look intimidating but their weapon, a hefty 5,000 rupee fine, has reduced grown men to begging... They move swiftly, striding into shops, rifling under the counter and, if they find plastic bags, impose a fine on the shopkeeper. From Starbucks and McDonalds to tiny street food stall owners, no one is exempt from the ban on single-use plastic” (source). Or, as Prakash puts it ‘education at all socioeconomic areas (in India) is key to changing consumer habits... The middle and lower class population in India is not spoken to regularly, they have a high population but are not educated enough. This needs to change to see results.’ These are two of many simple methods that are being practised on a daily basis that have produced positive differences.
Furthermore, there is now a growing focus on designing new solutions to products that are currently used in all of our consumer-driven lives. Examples can be seen with biodegradable bags in India, in Mexico where a company is transforming avocado pits into disposable bioplastic straws and cutlery, and in Indonesia where the root vegetable cassava is used to create biodegradable bags. By designing new products, along with minimising single-use items, correctly disposing of used products in correct categories and limiting the amount of non-organic material used on a day to day basis, creating a zero waste environment is being achieved.
By understanding the situation to a higher level, utilising the knowledge gained and adjusting habits solutions can be found in a short period of time. The interviewees' experiences have demonstrated that we can all try to innovate with the most basic means and challenge the plastic status-quo economy in order to adjust the way that consumerism is practised within India. There are many, many solutions to this complex problem, which one works best for you, is up to you.