Yesterday a couple of senior girls came to my house. They wanted to have an earnest conversation about what they could do to minimise the flow of plastic–and especially mutli-layered foil packaging. I showed them a few ideas on Pinterest, of things they could make with the wrappers, but the truth is most of these items are the kinds of things that would ultimately wind up in the garbage bin a short time later. I have yet to find anything that one can make with those wrappers that would put them to a good second use.
So I levelled with them: I told them if they’re really concerned about the problem of plastic wrappers they should stop eating biscuits and chocolates and encourage their friends to do the same. Easier said than done, I know. But that’s the only way to get rid of this menace.
In Garbology class this week I read the children the story of “Jala, the Plastic Sea Turtle” which narrates the friendship between Palavi and Jala, a loggerhead turtle she meets off the coast of Tamil Nadu. She tells Palavi of her plight: that she and all the other loggerhead turtles will become extinct if we humans don’t stop using and tossing so much plastic!
In the discussion after the story, one boy shared a thought: before plastic Indians used use matkas (mud, clay cups/bowls) and when one broke they could toss it out the window and it would just become one with the soil again and new matkas could be made. He wondered: did this behaviour just stay put when plastic came to replace clay? It’s a great question. But I still wonder how people can live with this tossing after so many decades, seeing and knowing that the plastic isn’t going anywhere.
The other day my husband and I took a walk alongside the edge of the neighbouring village called Pujarivari Palle. There was a retaining wall and behind it a sea of garbage. My first thought was to get a team of students together and do an Ugly Indian campaign to clean it up. But then I learned that in India, especially among towns and villages, there is no municipal pick up of waste to take it to the dump. What people can sell to the kabadiwalla they sell. The rest they dump adjacent to their village. Some of these villages have 4-5 such spots.
This is where I get into a state of wondering: what is the point? Apparently this problem has roots in the post-Independence period. Previously the villages and towns were relatively autonomous. But now there was a centralised government and it told the people: we’ll take care of you, don’t worry about anything. This new centralised government proceeded to not do anything all the while infantalising its subjects. It took away the authority and responsibility of these smaller entities and now nothing gets done at any level.
The people in these rural areas are increasingly consuming like their urban counterparts, hence you see more of a disposal culture and more plastic.
But something’s got to give if we don’t want to live in a garbage dump with the smell and sight of it at every turn. At some point this out of sight, out of mind mentality has got to give. Doesn’t it?