If you live in India and are wondering how to do Plastic Free July, you’re in the right place.
Doing Plastic Free July is not only fun but it also makes you think about how much plastic packaging you use in your daily life. Every year in July, people who sign up for this challenge refuse single use plastic.
To accept the challenge, you can sign up on the Plastic Free July website. During signing up, you choose what you will do. You can pick from 3 options depending on how much you can do – refusing single use plastic packaging, targeting plastic takeaway items or going totally plastic-free.
If you’re a busy bee, fret not. You can choose the length of your challenge according to what suits you – it could be a day, week or month. When you succeed in ditching plastic (I’m pretty sure you will, it’s not that hard), you can share your story on social media to inspire others.
The Plastic Free July challenge originated in Australia. Some might wonder why it is relevant in India. Here’s why:
According to a report in Down to Earth magazine published in June 2018, an average Indian consumes 11 kg of plastic per year and this number is estimated to rise in the coming years. Also, 43 per cent of India’s plastics are used in packaging and are single-use plastic.
The problem of plastic pollution is not of one country alone. It affects all of us around the world including people in India. If you are preparing for the challenge, here are 10 desi tips to help you:
1. Carry your own reusable bag, basket or jhola
Lightweight plastic bags are a menace. Most people in India bring them home from the market and reuse these as garbage bags to dispose off mixed waste. These soiled bags are then given to waste workers who have to sort through them with bare hands which is inhuman and disrespectful.
A majority of plastic bags end up in landfills or water bodies. 25 Indian states have banned plastic bags but such bans have failed because both consumers and businesses are not willing to change their habits.
You can be the change by carrying your own reusable bag whenever you go to the market to shop. If you find cotton and jute bags expensive, take any old piece of fabric lying at home – it could be a bed sheet, thick sari or even a tablecloth. Stitch your own bags or ask your local tailor to sew a few bags for you.
2. Refuse non-woven or fake cloth bags
Non-woven bags look like cloth bags but they aren’t. They are made out of polypropylene which is a form of plastic. In Indian cities, many businesses hand them out as ‘cloth’ bags. If a shopkeeper or person tells you that it is a cloth bag, do take out a few minutes and explain it to them that these bags are actually plastic.
Also, India imports these bags in huge quantities from China, which is not really sustainable. No kabaadiwaala will ever take these bags from you because these are non-recyclable. Your best bet is to refuse them by carrying your own bag.
3. Use a reusable water bottle
In urban areas, using plastic water bottles has become a habit. Most people head out of home without water and when they get thirsty, they conveniently grab a bottle of water for 15 rupees. However, this bottle comes at a huge price. Have you ever wondered why you are paying for clean drinking water that is the birthright of every creature on this planet?
Privatisation of water is a big issue across the world. Bottling plants take water from areas outside the city and companies then transport millions of bottles using vehicles which use fossil fuels. A single bottle of water has a big ecological footprint.
You can decide to not participate in such a system by filling your bottle at home or or any public tap with clean drinking water.
4. Bring your own dabba for takeaway
If you and your family like getting takeaway or eating street food, consider carrying along your own dabbas or tiffin boxes. The idea is to avoid plastic takeaway boxes which are designed for single use. They are not just harmful for the planet but also for your health as they leach toxins into your food which can cause cancer.
When getting takeaway, speak to the person behind the counter and request them to put the food in your box. I’ve done that in several places – in railway canteens, at hole in the wall restaurants in my neighbourhood and even fancy bakeries. The staff always agrees to use my box for takeaway.
5. Use a reusable cup or good old gilaas
Plastic cups and plastic lined paper cups are being used abundantly in Indian cities. The chai shops on streets which once had real glasses now use flimsy plastic cups. Big fast food chains serve all their drinks in plastic lined paper cups. If you go to an event no matter how big or small, chances are that they’ll serve your drink in a disposable cup.
A used disposable cup is soiled and gets sent to the landfill. Paper lined cups meet the same fate. If you’d like to refuse plastic cups, request your host to provide you a steel glass or ceramic cup. You can also carry your own reusable mug/tumbler/stainless steel cup/glass from home.
6. Use reusable cutlery when eating out
It’s common to see fast food restaurants handing out disposable plastic spoons, forks and knives. You can easily refuse these by carrying your own stainless steel cutlery from home.
Take a big cloth napkin and wrap your cutlery in it so that you can easily put it into your bag. You can also stitch a handy cutlery pouch with sections for your reusable straw, chopsticks, spoons, forks and knives.
Note: The cutlery pouch featured above belongs to Padmini and has been stitched by her local tailor. You can follow Padmini on Instagram.
7. Refuse plastic straws, use your lips
The worldwide anti-plastic straw movement has grown considerably especially after the video of a turtle with straw stuck in its nose went viral. Plastic straws are often found littered on streets and they end up in the ocean.
Drinking from straws has become a habit in most parts of the world but straws are not necessary unless you have a disability. We must take into consideration that people with disabilities need straws to drink and that not all people with disability can afford or use reusable straws with ease.
But if you do want a reusable straw because of your personal preference or due to a disability, you can opt for a reusable straws made from stainless steel, bamboo, glass, silicon etc.
8. Switch to reusable produce bags or cloth thaila
Grocery shopping involves a lot of unnecessary plastic packaging (look at the picture to see how much plastic has been used in those shelves). It is possible to eliminate single use plastic used for covering fruits, vegetables, greens, grains, bread, beans etc by using reusable produce bags.
You can take your reusable produce bags wherever you shop – be it a small store, an open bazaar or even a supermarket and put your stuff in them.
To make your own cloth thailas, find an old sturdy piece of natural fabric lying at home or buy some metres of kora cotton and stitch a set of bags. If you don’t have sewing skills, go to your local tailor and she/he will stitch them for you.
9. Buy in bulk or go to kirane ki dukaan
In Indian cities, it is still possible to buy in bulk. Look for shops in your neighbourhood that sell loose items such as grains, lentils, beans, spices, nuts, herbs and seeds. The shop may stock these things in sacks, bulk bins, steel drums and dispensers. Such places could be a traditional kirana store, the local farmers’ market, an organic store or even a supermarket.
You might even have a flour chakki or oil mill nearby which will give you stuff in your own bag or container.
Some common concerns about buying in bulk are low quality of such food, lack of hygiene and pests. If you have such concerns, look for a reliable shop and share your concerns with the staff. They’ll be able to help you out and give you the information you need.
10. Make your own personal hygiene products
Plastic enters our homes in the form of various types of cleaning and personal hygiene products. Some examples are soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, loofah, body wash, face wash, shampoo, moisturiser, dishwashing liquid, floor cleaning liquid, glass cleaning liquid and toilet cleaning liquid, all of which come packed in plastic or have plastic micro beads.
Firstly, we don’t need so many products. One can use less products and still be clean. Secondly, many products contain toxic chemicals which harm the body and pollute our water. During Plastic Free July, you can make your own cleaning products at home using simple ingredients such as herbal powders, citrus peels, vinegar, baking soda etc. It’ll save you money and benefit your health.
I took the Plastic Free July challenge last year and it was a real eye opener. I learnt some really valuable lessons along the way and it has changed how I live today.
I hope this blog post encourages you (gently and lovingly) to take up the Plastic Free July challenge. If you have any questions or doubts, please leave a comment below. If you liked what you read, share it on Facebook so that others like yourself can quit single use plastic too.
P.S. This article is dedicated to the ones who are taking the Plastic Free July challenge 2018. A special shoutout and big thank you to Padmini Gopal, Aarzoo Godara and Himanshu, who are featured in the photos in this post.