What Will it Take to End Our Toxic Affair With Plastic?


What Will it Take to End Our Toxic Affair With Plastic?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The hardest part of letting go, is saying goodbye.” The lyrics to the classic Megadeth song were playing in my head as I struggled with a load of tissue boxes, mosquito repellents, milk packets, and loose cigarettes. What could fit in my pockets was jammed inside, some of it I held in my hands, and I tucked the rest between my arms and body and prayed to the God of balancing groceries. The reason my usual supply run had turned into a circus juggling act was my own fault – I’d gone to the general store without a cloth bag the day after the plastic ban. The state of Maharashtra had just bid adieu to single-use plastics, and that meant no more carry bags from the kirana store.

I knew the inconvenience I was suffering on the walk home was for the good of the planet and our future generations, but there was an emptiness in my heart that belied the stuffed nature of my pockets. Like the end of a long, toxic relationship, the fallout of the state’s breakup with plastic was wreaking havoc on my emotional state. How do you say goodbye to something you’ve known your entire life?

One of my earliest memories is of drinking Energee from the Aarey stall near my house. Greedy kid logic told me that if the pineapple-flavoured milk tasted delicious through one straw, then using two must double the pleasure. That memory still makes me groan, both for all the unnecessary straws I used and for all the extra sugar I ingested as a child. The two-straw method was far from my only offence against our environment. Like all of us, I’ve been guilty of using a plastic bag as a glove to catch intruding insects in my living room, as well as using garbage bags as shoe sleeves while travelling.

When plastic is everywhere, you learn to use it for everything.

When you’ve lived in a consumerist society your entire life, sustainability feels like an uncomfortable fit at first.

This is why I’m curious to see how the plastic ban plays out in Mumbai. As the beef ban and demonetisation have showed us, the government is quite adept at stamping out practices and commodities it deems undesirable. At least the plastic ban hasn’t come close to triggering civil war, like the other two. In fact, in a rare occurrence, this is a ban that seems to be well received by the public at large. Why shouldn’t it be so? It’s a forward-thinking measure with clearly defined long-term benefits.

Yet, it still causes pangs of distress.

After all, plastic is almost like an honorary family member in most middle-class households. Let’s face it, you’ve probably seen the giant plastic bag filled with little plastic bags more than that cousin whose wedding you’ll be forced to attend in December. There’s plastic to be found in every room of the house, from the soap cases and shampoo bottles in the bathroom to the Dominos oregano and chilli flake packets on the dining table. Every little trip outside the box results in you coming home with a little more, whether it’s the carry bag you got your goods in, or the wrapper itself.

It’s going to take a mammoth effort on everyone’s part, consumers and retailers alike, to free the city’s lungs from plastic’s chokehold. It certainly won’t be easy. To paraphrase Spider Man, “With great awareness, comes great responsibility.”

When you’ve lived in a consumerist society your entire life, sustainability feels like an uncomfortable fit at first. Perhaps, instead of grieving over the loss of minor conveniences like two straws for an Energee, we should focus our energies on starting small. For instance, I’m never going back to the kirana store without my new best friend, the jhola.