What’s It Like to Go Without Plastic For Two Years? I Found Out the Hard Way


What’s It Like to Go Without Plastic For Two Years? I Found Out the Hard Way

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

“Arré woh 302 wali madam ka samaan hai,” my grocer yells at his delivery boy, who is busy shoving a selection of mangoes, musk melon, spinach, bitter gourd, tomatoes, green chillies, and free dhaniya into not one, but two plastic bags. “Yeh basket mein jayega,” my grocer stops the boy in his tracks.

Most people my age have the waiters at their local bar recognise them by their face and drink order. Me? I have two grocers, one Hot Chips shopkeeper, and one naariyal paani wala recognise me as the madam who won’t accept plastic.

I love it! It’s a reputation I’ve worked long and hard to build: two years of refusing plastic at every chance possible.

That’s two years of learning to drink tender coconut water straight from the gourd, often clumsily. Two years of giving up most cravings that come wrapped in plastic packaging. Two years of calmly taking items out of polythene bags when shopkeepers habitually put them in one, and transferring them to my cloth bag. Two years of my hands and arms sufficing to carry whatever I bought on days when I forget my cloth bag. Two years of boiling anger at whoever came up with the idea of packaging vegetables and fruits on a styrofoam plate wrapped in two layers of clingwrap. Two years of scouring out kitchen products, cosmetics, and toiletries that come in glass jars with metal lids. Two years of wearing clothes at least twice before tossing them into the laundry basket. Two years of licking my lips in thirst to avoid buying a plastic water bottle when I forget to carry mine from home. Two years of consistently looking for sustainable, chemical-free, plastic-free substitutes for nearly everything. Everything.

Trying to live sustainably is not easy.

I’m. Not. Even. Exaggerating.

I’ve often asked myself why I’m so obsessed with eliminating plastic from my life. Why does sustainability, which actually involves a gamut of hassles – living minimally, buying organic and fair trade products, giving up that packet of chips you love, using public transportation, composting, repairing/reusing/recycling things instead of trashing them, and more – feel like a personal battle? A personal cause, even.

The answer is as simple as it is selfish. I love nature. I love trees. I love resting my palms on the barks of old trees. I love clean sand on a beach. I love clear water under sparkling sunlight. I love clear, non-polluted blue skies. And fresh air. Who the hell doesn’t?!

But that’s not the only reason.

I know someone is going to roll their eyes while reading this, and drolly say, “How precious!” But the truth is, our reckless and ignorant attitude towards our environment makes me feel all kinds of icky – I feel irresponsible, privileged, guilty, helpless, lazy, selfish. Making the efforts to live sustainably, on the other hand, makes me feel good – responsible, thoughtful, proud, inspired, hopeful.

I have to admit though, that I’ve faltered more times than I’d like to acknowledge. Trying to live sustainably is not easy. Some days, I’m too tired to fight the battle. It takes the mickey out of me to be conscious and intentional at every step until it becomes a habit. It might seem improbable, but it does happen. In that initial phase, living sustainably is hard, time-consuming, frustrating, inconvenient, and expensive. But I know it’s worth it.

The classic cop-out toward sustainable living is, “But what difference does one person make?” Let me stop you right there. It’s an old and irresponsible argument that stopped holding up a long time ago. So, please wake up.

Consumerism will kill our planet and then kill us. Or the other way around, probably under a pile of all our possessions bought at 90 per cent off on Amazon and Myntra and Ebay, wrapped in more bubble wrap than necessary.

I often wish we had as many noisy ads and announcements about refusing, reusing, and recycling goods as we do for the 50 per cent mid-season, off-season, doesn’t-matter-what-season-sale on M&S, Lifestyle, H&M,and Forever21. We need more narratives about what we didn’t buy, what we gave up, and what we refused, instead of celebrating what we bought. Maybe a zine or two on how to switch over to sustainable everyday habits than smokey eye makeup tutorials?

Maybe I’ll write that zine, myself. But right now, I have to go buy groceries.

“Madam, ande? Yeh kaise le ke jaoge?”, he asks, concerned.

“Ummm… bhaiya, inko newspaper mein wrap kardo, please?” Where there’s a will, there’s a way.