Thursday, June 18, 2015

3rd July International Plastic Bag Free Day

International Plastic Bag Free Day 
(updated from the article published in Himali Darpan 2014)
Plastic age is what we live in is a common point of conversation in the Darjeeling Hills. Along with it also comes the discussion how this age is not great as the previous age in terms of longevity and health. This is a recognition of challenges we face with this plastic age. "In India 4 million tonnes of plastic is used annually; with plastic or polythene bags being a major part. The toxic constituents and non-biodegradable nature of plastic bags make it visibly one of the most serious concerns for the environment." (

Single use plastic bag - a common feature in our lives
“Plastic carrybags represents a negative attitude to life and nature. It makes people believe “everything is disposable” and “use and throw” is possible. This is unsustainable and criminal. It is a contamination not only to the nature and our culture of sharing and caring.” Shibu Nair, (Thanal

Plastic bags in most instances are a single use product with an extremely short usage time and it makes no sense to make it from a precious finite crude oil resource. Internationally, on an average a plastic bag is used for just 25 minutes. ( Thus use of plastic bags is extremely unfair on the future generations especially when the costs of the bags are externalised in that producers do not take responsibility of the product beyond the retail outlet.  

Now that I have blamed the producers, what of our behaviour and attitude towards plastic bags. We know that it is not good yet are always demanding a plastic bag when we go shopping. It is a common scenario to buy milk in plastic bags, where did our milk cans disappear? The story does not end with our demand, how do we dispose the plastic bag: dump it in the waste vat, roll it down the hill or burn it. The waste vat invariably ends up down the hill and down the hill means clogging jhoras and contributing towards landslides. Some of them end up in the soil, destabilising it, harming precious agricultural land and also entering our food chain. Burning is not a solution, toxic carcinogenic chemical are released which becomes a part of the air we breathe.  This is not how we should be treating our living environment. For a stark documented story of a garbage slide check out the Alaichikhop, Kalimpong 2008 disaster on the Save the Hills blog -

Plastic bag discussions always bring up the topic of 'Ban'. We have seen a number of 'Bans on use of plastic bags in Darjeeling' a couple of times from the Darjeeling Municipality and then the Darjeeling Police. The lesson learnt from it is that 'Ban' is just one part of the larger solution and in isolation is not as effective as it was thought to be. A congruence of community awareness and initiatives makes the ban successful as has been the experience in Darjeeling, Sikkim and Delhi. "Plastic ban - Who Cares New Delhi, 23 December 2014,: It‘s really shocking that in spite of plastic being banned in many states/UTs, including Delhi,  it’s rampantly used by local shopkeepers, fruit sellers, by branded shop owners, and most of all, by the common people." ( the Toxics Link study in Delhi is quoted in the Times of India, "99% city veggie sellers use plastic bags Almost 99% of vegetable and fruit vendors, and 95% of meat and fish vendors contacted during the survey were using plastic bags. The usage was high even among small food joints and dhabas (82%). Out of 834 respondents who were interviewed, 78% of the consumers said they preferred using plastic bags. Even worse, 333 users said they use and throw plastic bags, only 75 said they try to reuse." ( 

Non-woven PP Bag or plainly Plastic Bag
In addition to all the reasons for not using the plastic bag is that many of the bags we use are not food grade which means we should not put our food into it as it contaminates our food. With ban on plastic bags, we see a wave of non woven PP(polypropelene) bags in the Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalaya. The non woven PP bag looks like cloth but do note that this is also plastic and has the same harmful effects. Most people are under the impression that non woven PP bags are made of cloth and manufacturers are also pushing this idea and claiming it disintegrates easily and is eco-friendly and it does not clog drains as it is porous. On the contrary it is worse as it tears up more quickly than ordinary plastic bags so recovery is more difficult. The Delhi High Court's Judgment delivered on: 28.08.2009 is explicit "In the present case, the admitted position is that the non-woven bags comprise of 98.3% polypropylene. Therefore, the conclusion is simple that the end product is nothing but plastic. Since the products manufactured by the petitioner are admittedly bags, they would fall within the expression “plastic bags”. In continuation the Delhi High Court explains, "In any event, the petitioner‟s non-woven polypropylene bags would be covered in the expression “all kinds of plastic bags” as appearing in paragraph 2 of the said notification. Since the non-woven bags are admittedly not bio-degradable, they cannot be used at other places in Delhi also in view of paragraph 3 of the notification dated 07.01.2009. The argument that the petitioner‟s product is porous and that water can pass through the same is of no consequence because that is not the consideration which is to be taken into account while construing the notification dated 07.01.2009. Paragraph 2 of the said notification, as already indicated above, refers to “all kinds” of plastic bags. Once the petitioner‟s product falls within the ambit of “plastic bags”, it is immaterial as to whether it is porous or whether it is a WP(C) 8120/09 Page No. 13 of 13 textile. The petitioner‟s argument that non-woven polypropylene bags are an alternative to plastic bags also does not appeal to us. The nonwoven polypropylene bags are plastic bags in themselves and, therefore, they cannot be a substitute for plastic bags as suggested by the learned counsel for the petitioner." We need to include non-woven PP bags in the 'ban' and stop its use. 

“There are some environmental problems that are hard to solve, that involve complex economic and social trade offs. The problem of disposable plastic bags is not one of these. It’s simple – just get rid of them. We don’t need them and they aren’t worth the massive problems they cause. There are easy replacements that are better for public health, the environment and the economy.” Annie Leonard The Story of Stuff

So all it requires of us is to say NO. No to plastic bags and use alternatives like jute bags, cloth bags, paper bags, milk cans which we used to use just a few years ago. Just this action means that our lives and the lives of the future generations are lived in fullness. It also means that a multitude of living beings in the rivers, seas and oceans have a healthy environment.

Now one might wonder why this fixation on plastic bags. Thin film plastic bags are the least needed product in our lives. For such a thin and light product the environmental damage is tremendous. True one does talk of recycling but where is the recycling chain? Recycling also takes energy which means pollution. Incidentally, recycling does not give us the same quality product but it downcycles it into an inferior product. Also as it is thin and lightweight it takes ages before we reach a point where it makes sense for kabadiwalas to recover it.

So all we need to say is No to Plastic Bags and also tell others about it too in order our lives and the lives of our children become safer.  

On 3rd July International Plastic Bag Free Day let us commit to stop using plastic bags not just for the day but for the rest of our lives and to proactively engage with our families, friends, peers, co-workers and communities and do away with plastic bags.


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