Rituparna Goswami Pande
Remember those jute bags that used to hang listlessly in the corners of our old dreary kitchen cupboards? You most probably wouldn't remember for we had been relegating it to shady corners all our lives. No wonder they must be having the last laugh at us after all, for we had swapped them for plastic bags about five decades ago. How gleefully we had discarded those indigenous jute bags blinded by the enchantment of the shiny and clean plastic avatar of our grocery bags.
Boy! Were we dumb!
Flashback to a few more years before the jute bags and we meet the wicker baskets, I remember my grandmother sporting a few of those many years ago when I was a mere childof about seven or eight. She used to own a few of those beautiful wicker baskets that would snugly contain all her veggies that she would bring from the market or pluck from her garden. I was especially drawn to her picnic basket and wish I had one now to flank on my kitchen countertop. However, a few years down the line my mother switched to a plastic basket. They used to come in many colours and ours was a scarlet red. Dad was however reluctant to go shopping carrying the red basket and always ended up with the soiled jute bags.
Going shopping used to be a deliberate affair during those days as the streets and pavements were not scattered with vegetable vendors everywhere from morning till night like these days. One needed a lot of meticulous planning to go to the market. Guwahati markets used to be a countable noun those days as there were very few like the ones in Uzanbazar, Kachchari Bazaar, Faansi Bazaar or Beltola Bazaar.However, it's a completely different story altogether these days with pavement markets springing up almost everywhere.
My dad used to love shopping in the Kachchari and Uzanbazaar markets as our house was equidistant from both. Mom would plan the day's menu verbatim and would make a list for the veggies for dad to get from the marketand he would invariably end up missing a few of the items. As a result of which a few more trips to the Kachchari marketwould be made.
However, today we have impromptu shopping sprees anywhere anytime. I often end up with an arm full of veggies after picking up sonny from school as the pavement leading to school turns into a flourishing market every afternoon. And since the shopkeepers always provide the plastic bags one does not need to carry an extra bag or basket......they are cheap, handy and easily available.
Hah! So we thought!
And so it began, the saga of our tragic fall... Those plastic bags that we embraced with open arms and closed brains have created havoc in our lives. After producing a record of around seven million tons of plastic waste that end up in our oceans every year. To think it takes about 100 years for a plastic bag to disintegrate in the environment, do your statistics about the billions of plastic that we have released in the environment and the millions of years it would take to decompose. Did you know that 160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second!
The great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a floating landfill of garbage in the Pacific is twice the size of Texas and is mostly composed ofplastic.... Phew!
I realised I have been an accomplice too in this collateral damage. I am one of the culprits to be blamedfor this phenomenal pollutingof the world environment.
I was moved to tears seeing the predicament of a bird trapped in plastic and that was not just one instance of the damage.The numbers are staggering, 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement. Plastic that gets into the soil and slowly release toxic chemical ultimately eaten by animals and lead to their eventual death. Plastic is also a bane for humans as its exposure is often linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity and other ailments.
Our drains are clogged with plastics, our seas are clogged with plastic and our minds are full of plastic. Our city has witnessed numerous instances of flash floods and water logging as our drainage system is fighting a lone battle with plastic waste. Plastic bottles, cups, disposable plates, packets, soiled sanitary pads all find their way into our drains blocking them and turning our streets into small rivulets.
I have vowed to shun the menace of plastic in my home. One should begin somewhere at least and let's start with our own homes. I have started my own battle against plastic by saying no and declining the offer of accepting carry bags at malls and shopping corners who believe their duty ends with their offer of asking the customer if they want or do not want a plastic carrybag. I prefer to carry my purchases in my arms or just fish out my own silk carryall.
I have fumbled a few times but i am trying my best to make a change. Let's bring out those old jute shopping bags from our cupboards, let's give them a new lease of life. Its appalling how we have misbehaved with nature all these years.
Come to think of it weren't our ancestors smarter than us, they worked in correlation with nature, accepted the laws of nature and understood the equation of the ecological balance. Sadly, our future generations cannot say the same about us. We have been playing with fire all these years, cutting down trees, depleting our forest cover, caused extinction, overpopulating the earth and rupturing the ozone layer with our chemicals.Its because of us the glaciers are melting, we are responsible for the dangers of global warming, climate change, genetic modification, water pollution and so on.....human impact on the environment has become a major matter of concern in universities all over the world, while they search for the answers we the public need to sit up and take note of our responsibilities towards the environment.
It seems we need another war, a war against plastic. Let's not just preach let us practice and make this earth a beautiful place for our future generations.