Since I started working towards Plastic Reduction in India, I have met a lot of people – friends, acquaintances, well-wishers – all of whom agree that Plastic is Bad and harming our environment.
There is a sub-set of that group that actually realises that we ourselves are a part of the problem – the plastic we use, no matter how little eventually contributes to that big mess of plastic that we are surrounded by. If you are a part of that sub-set, then read on…
I am sure you have at one or more points in your life tried to reduce your own plastic consumption and picked up a product that had a green “eco-friendly”, “biodegradable” or “compostable” stamp on it. And then you would feel good about using that product as well because you feel like you made the right choice for the environment.
However, the sad reality of a lot of products currently available in the market as “eco-friendly” is that they are anything but that. Over the past few months, I have come to adopt a term called “End-of-Life” scenario. Its a simple way of thinking what would happen to the product you use today once its usage life is over. And it isn’t as difficult to analyse as one would think.
Take a plastic bag for example – you get one from the store, take it home, maybe reuse it a couple of times and then it reaches the trash. If you are segregating your waste at source, it reaches the dry waste bin, otherwise, it simply reaches the bin. From there, it reaches the garbage collection points where it will either (hopefully) get picked up by a rag picker or it will reach a landfill. If it gets picked up for recycling it will be one of the lucky few bags that might just get recycled and get a re-birth to be used again. But if it lands up in a landfill, and in all likelihood this is a more probable scenario, it will stay there forever because nothing – not even a banana peel – breaks down in a landfill due to the high pressure and anaerobic conditions where there is no bacteria to help break anything down. Here the plastic bag will live forever, till aliens come to our dead planet after we are long gone and look for signs of civilisation and find only plastic!
On the other hand, lets talk about that eco-friendly Biodegradable AND Compostable garbage bag that you maybe picked up to do something right for the environment.
This is my favourite category (yes I am being completely sarcastic!) of eco-friendly products. First things first, nothing except natural products like plants… and I repeat, nothing… can be both biodegradable and compostable. By definition, compostable products can label themselves compostable if they break-down in the presence of certain bacteria into organic compounds and non-visible inorganic compounds. Biodegradable, on the other hand, means all those products which come 100% from nature without much processing and will go back to nature under natural conditions – so you don’t need to maintain specific conditions like temperature, pressure, bacteria presence, worms etc etc to break this product down.
So coming back to that “Biodegradable and Compostable” Garbage bag. Now since the bag can’t be both, there must be something fishy. Watch out for simple indicators like plastic codes (that is the number written in an arrow triangle which indicates plastic products). If it says made out of “Plant Based” materials, watch out for signs like “Bio-based” and “CPLA – Corn-Starch based Poly Lactic Acid). Simply put, anything that looks like plastic, probably is!
Best option is to carry your own bags for groceries (cotton bags, cloth bags, jute bags – anything works). For garbage bags, best is to not use a bin-liner at home at all. If you segregate your waste, use a newspaper liner for the wet waste if you must. For dry waste, you don’t need a liner anyway. If you don’t segregate, a newspaper would do just fine. Its just a little bit of an effort to clean the dustbin with water when you empty it out! It take 30 seconds at best but is way more helpful for the environment than any “biodegradable and compostable” bag out there!
So go be a green hero – just think about the End-of-Life scenario of your choice!