Often the scale of the waste problem in India is overwhelming and in trying to find solutions one does tend to focus on solutions that can handle large volume and give a larger scale impact. In a country of a billion plus people this is understandable.
However a lot is to be said for the small scale intervention which grows organically and produces large scale impact. In systems theories, this phenomenon is referred to as Emergence. This word describes how things done at a smaller faster scale come together to create a whole new reality at a larger scale. Especially when one is trying to change consumer mindsets, it is imperative to look for these micro level changes that can be made, that when done by a lot of people together will make a huge difference to the overall waste scenario.
While working with the problems posed by very thin (below 50 micron) plastics, we found that it was not so easy to collect thin plastic bags from consumers. We know that these plastic bags are out there, as they are still being manufactured and used by road side vendors. However our collection drives made us realise that while thermocol and aluminium foil came in easily, the thin plastic bags were just not coming through.
A lot of people feel that by using thin plastic bags to line their trash bins they are doing a good thing – that they are effectively reusing the bag. However using a thin plastic bag to line your trash bin is tantamount to throwing it away – albeit with a lot of other (often wet ) waste in it.
When these bags come into the municipal collection they are already soiled by the waste put in them and therefore for the ragpickers as well it is difficult to empty them and put them aside for reuse.
Since these plastic bags have no resale value, the plastic bags just go directly into landfills.
The very small change we need to make here is to explain to people that using thin plastic bags as trash liners is not sustainable.
The convenience offered by plastic trash bin liners to urban consumers can be replaced by using newspapers to line the bins and then every few days washing out the bin.
Assuming that one is also making an attempt to start composting kitchen waste at home the amount of wet waste being thrown into bins should reduce over time and obviously for dry waste you don’t really need a bin liner at all!
Approaching each material that makes up our waste if we can find small changes such as this that people can make in their daily lifestyle, a country of a billion plus people can ensure that each material meets its appropriate end in a sustainable manner!
Here are some small ways in which you can avoid bringing thin plastic bags into your homes:
- Say no to the road side vendors when they offer you a thin plastic bag
- Always keep two or three cloth bags with you – if one gets used the others are available
- Change your shopping plans when you realise you are not carrying a shopping bag with you
- Ask the vendor if he can wrap the item in newspaper
- Keep thin plastic bags in a neat way at home so you can reuse them again and again
- Do not line your trash cans with thin plastic bags
- Involve your kids in keeping a count of how many thin plastic bags have entered your home every week and make a game of reducing this number with them.
- When anyone offers you something in a thin plastic bag accept the gift and return the bag (with a smile and an explanation) ! J
If at any point, your mind begins to doubt the value of making these changes, remember that the phenomenon of emergence is at work – even if you don’t see the results right away!