Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are we choking the earth?

There were times – the good times – when everyone went shopping with a basket in the hand and would come home full of groceries and other things either in open or packed in paper bags, made of newspapers. No extra paper was wasted to make the paper bags as the newspapers which go waste in millions everyday could be used for this purpose. The used paper bags when thrown as rubbish would automatically be consumed by the nature leaving no harmful effects behind. Roads, streets and countryside looked clean and beautiful. The sewerage line continued un restricted and no manhole over spilled.

Those were the good days.

Then came the new era of polythene bags – stronger, lightweight, rain proof, low cost and easy to handle. Soon their use spread in every sphere of life – from grocery stores to packing material – it was polythene everywhere. Going to purchase grocery became easy – go empty handed, come back loaded with many colours of shopping bags made of polythene. Even purchasing milk became easy – no need to carry a utensil from home as we did in our childhood. The milk seller would now pack any quantity of domestic use in the new innovation. This made everyone happy and the practice goes on the world over. Each year many multiple of trillions of shopping bags are produced that we bring home and then throw out – not to rot but to haunt us and our future.

The beginning of the bad days.

Now visit a countryside, and one is horrified to see countless non-biodegradable polythene bags littered all over presenting an ugly look and badly damaging the image of the once beautiful countryside. And as if this was enough. Not at all. These bags do not degrade easily and not do so even in many centuries. Its thermoplastic material which when heated gets softened due to weakening of intermolecular forces and melts, but on cooling it solidifies again. So that means it stays out there for ever.

Experts say that the extremely high presence of these bags is in fact suffocating the earth as a layer of these non-degenerated bags is being formed on the earth surface, making it difficult for the earth to breathe. These nuisance bags prevent sunlight exposure of the soil, thus destroying the beneficial bacteria causing loss of fertility. It also stops water from entering into the soil for its own health while stopping natural greenery to grow as now any natural growth is stopped due to the polythene layer over earth – which is getting dense everyday.

If one happens to travel by train, one is appalled (if with conscience) to see the beginning and the end of a town or a city increasingly becoming dumping grounds for these non-biodegradable objects posing risks not only to plants and crops but also to all living beings including humans. Not only this, the fertile lands are also being threatened. As the wind take these bags virtually everywhere and is choking the fertility of the land.

An easy way to destroy the rubbish and litter in most countries, including ours, is to burn the waste in the open. Once the polythene bags burn, they produce dioxins and furan which are mutagenic and carcinogenic (cancer causing). A research says that polythene bags that are red or yellow bright in colour have toxic chemicals like, lead and cadmium and same colour gets leached off and affects the eatables kept in these. In rural areas where cattle grazing is a common site, it is believed that almost 60% animals are affected by eating polythene bags as these disrupts the process of fermentation and mixing of contents that lead to indigestion. These also obstruct the digestive tract, and if not removed by operation can prove fatal.

I once got a chance while administering a small town sized area, and banned the use of polythene bags. I faced stiff resistance – interestingly not from the shop keepers but from the residents as they would carry the basket I had specially got made and was available at each store for a few bucks. The majority wanted shopping bags and not the shopping baskets. I enforced the decision anyway – but I heard after my departure that polythene bags have come back. For as long as the decision was promulgated, there was a drastic decrease in the tonnage of garbage lifted every day as there were no shopping bags.

So it is up to us what we want to do for us and our future and future of the earth we live on. And what do we do? Go shopping empty handed (and bring back monsters polythene bags) or carrying a basket?

PS: The post was first published in Jaho Jalal


Good points raised - here in the UK large retail stores such as Tesco and Asda have stop providing bag in the effort to get shoppers to bring a regular basket with them. Admittedly this debate is old but an important one too. The only reason why these disposable bags exist is simple for marketing and displaying logo's.

I think this calls for innovative ideas to re-develop a method by which a shopper can use a common basket and for marketing strategy to have its say in advertising.

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