Plastics are ubiquitous, yet their negative health effects are well documented, but we seem to remain oblivious to the imminent threat. Mentally we defer the consequence, much like the ostrich which buries its head in the sand, exposing its huge body, to evade the hunter.
According to the UK newspaper The Independent, There are 500 times more pieces of microplastic in the sea than there are stars in our galaxy and by 2050 it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish. It has proved so useful to humans that since the 1950s we have produced an estimated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of the stuff.
However, the victim of this success appears to be much of life on Earth. And humans, one day, could find themselves among them.
For some 79 per cent of the plastic produced over the last 70 years has been thrown away, either into landfill sites or into the general environment. Just nine per cent is recycled with the rest incinerated.
Plastic is everywhere and in most everything- from the food we eat to their packaging of solid and liquid food, in our refrigerators, single use cups to food containers. The average Indian uses approximately 25 pounds of plastics each year, about a tenth of what an average American use. Plastic contains endocrine disrupting chemicals that interfere with the balance of the hormones in the body, and researchers have found that most plastics- even those labeled BPA (Bisphenol A)- can leach these chemicals into the food.
A study by the Endocrine Society found that even low exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can cause significant adverse health effects, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and infertility. As they are the derivatives of petroleum, they can be difficult to recycle.
What are some of steps which can help me reduce the use of plastic at home
Around the home and kitchen
BUY goods made of natural fibers: engineered fabrics such as polyester, nylon and vinyl are all made of plastic. Clothing, accessories and bed linen are majorly made of engineered plastics. Avoid such blends, instead focus on organic cotton and wool.
Opt for non-plastic food storage containers: Although lightweight and convenient, plastic food containers contain chemicals that can easily migrate into food. Giving up plastic containers is a great place to start your plastic- purging campaign. Ceramic, steel and glass containers work well at home, you can label them easily for the purpose of identification.
Drink safe potable water in the water glass, bottled water is not only costly but very difficult to recycle. Store water in glass or steel bottle and sue the same for excursion and picnics.
Avoid plastic wraps and wax papers plastic wrap is difficult to recycle and may contain PVC, a known human carcinogen. Most wax paper is coated with paraffin wax from petroleum base or a formaldehyde- based resin. Use metal or glass containers with lid.
Choose local and homegrown most of the imported vegetables and fruits come with transparent plastic packing for better visual. Farm and garden grown vegetables are rarely, if ever, packaged in plastic. Whenever possible opt of the big supermarkets and buy instead from farmers market or local community supported agriculture shops.
At the grocery store you can avoid much plastic if buying many organic groceries from the bins. Wherever not possible buy the bulk quantity to reduce the plastic per serving.
Skip plastic food packaging many foods such as juice, nut butter, butter, spreads, dressings and eggs are available in containers made of glass metal or cardboard. If you must buy food with plastic packaging , avoid plastics with resin code #3 (polyvinyl chloride) #6 (polystyrene) and #7 (other) in a triangle on the bottom of the package, as they pose a greater known health risk and are difficult to recycle.
Avoid canned food apart form being high in salt and chemical preservatives, food cans often contain a lining made of BPA. Even the cardboard boxes of milk and juices are sometimes lined with polyethylene and not recyclable in al areas, so these aren’t an ideal substitute. Whenever possible, make soups and beans from scratch or buy them in glass bottles or cans that indicate a BPA free lining. Opting for fresh fruits and vegetables can circumvent this particular problem as well.
Skip the straw when out in the restaurant, you can cut back on the plastic by saying no the plastic straw. Use a reusable metal or glass straw or try out the straws made of bamboo or avocado seeds.
Carry cotton or natural fiber bags store shopping bags in the trunk of your car for impromptu shopping trips or even the planned ones. Learn to say no to plastic bags and nonwoven polypropylene, as they are not washable and may contain high level of lead. Use natural fiber or secondhand bags.
Carry or own cutlery especially when going to a fast food joints the idea may seem little weird in the beginning but start to make sense when you account for the gross presence and wastage of single use plastic in fast food joints. Plastic cutleries often contain polystyrene and can leach styrene, a possible human carcinogen, into food. Use metal or bamboo (like chopsticks) whenever possible.
Bring a cup often the styrofoam cups are made of polystyrene. If you frequent coffee shops, keep a reusable coffee mugs in the car- most baristas will gladly fill a reusable cup for you. If you are a juice or smoothie fan, keep a large thermos in the trunk for your favorite blend.
Choose natural chewing gum alternatives Surprised? Most chewing gum is made out a plastic called polyvinyl acetate, a chemical shown to cause tumors in lab rats. Instead of those gums, use ginger chews, fennel seeds or mint leaves fir fresh breath.
Start plants from seeds most seedlings from nurseries come in plastic trays, peat containers are not green alternatives because peat removal is harmful to the eco system. Instead, prepare seedlings in earthen pots. If you do purchase plants from the nurseries, ask if they will use plastic pots if returned to them.
Most of the hotels are big consumer of plastic packaging or plastic in one form or the other. In fact, very few of them have any dedicated plan to recycle the plastic. The commitment to sustainability is flaky and superficial.
According to the lifestyle magazine Taj Exotica Resort & Spa in the Andaman Islands, a 72-villa resort surrounded by 46 acres of forest and mangroves, has an onsite bottling plant eliminating the use of plastic bottles, a waste disposal system – converting wet waste to gas and compost, and a sanitation treatment plant. The company will also reduce the usage of single use plastics – including replacing plastic-wrapped dry amenities with eco-friendly substitutes, across 20 of its hotels.
Similarly, Akaryn Hotel Group aims to become a single-use plastic free company by 2020. Currently, the property uses bio-degradable bags, provides reusable shopping bags, and bathroom amenities are presented in locally-manufactured celadon pottery containers, filled with essential oil-based products. Glass bottles and containers are substitutes for single-use plastics in the restaurants.
At the Alila Ubud, guests are given a bamboo straw at the beginning of their stay, while at Alila Villas Uluwatu, the hotel has its own eco-friendly water bottling system.
Mani from award winning The Goat Village retreat (www. http://thegoatvillage.com/) shared that all of their pre check-in communications (email/ website, et al) carry a disclaimer that they don't encourage plastic or anything non bio-degradable. So even if people end up carrying, their volunteers and village team members are trained to do a polite litter test before check-out. If any amount of plastic is found - even if a small toffee wrapper, guests are made to take it back and suggested to dispose it off responsibly in the cities.
In some cases, particularly large groups, guests are made to sign a disclaimer while checking in in which they announce the amount of plastic they're carrying and are made to commit to take it back.
Despite this, they do end up with some of the plastic waste each month, which they, in their limited capacity, try to segregate at the village level and send the non-biodegradable ones to the nearest city or dumping grounds.
One can make their own effort to reduce the usage of plastic in daily life, the only requirement is intention and commitment unless it is too late.
“Namaste” and happy reading