When will we be plastic-free?

Will the government’s ambitious target to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 see the light of day, asks Nidhi Adlakha

I recently ordered a book from an online shopping site and it came wrapped in several plastic sheets inside a cardboard box. A few weeks before this, sturdy shampoo bottles and already-packaged ‘organic’ soaps came wrapped in bubble wrap and padded with plastic air pillows.

Walk into most supermarkets or ‘organic’ stores, and you’ll find eggs, fruits and grains sourced from farms stocked in plastic boxes.

The irony of ‘sustainable’ products packed in plastic is baffling. Given the carbon footprint associated with any online order (with shipping and delivery), it’s worrying how many brands choose to only retail online.

New initiatives

The government might have set an ambitious target to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022, but it’s not the ban that will work, but reworking marketing strategies and consumer mindsets.

The Telangana government’s recent ‘sensitise-incentivise’ campaign is a step in the right direction. Residents who hand over 2 kilos of plastic are given half a dozen eggs, a great incentive for locals to keep their areas plastic free.

Similarly, the government’s 2015 directive made it mandatory for road developers to use waste plastic along with bituminous mix.

In India, the average per capita consumption of plastic is approximately 11 kg (teriin.org). This comes in the form of shopping bags, packaging of foods and other products, online deliveries, and the cutlery from takeaways, etc.

It might seem that 11 kg is a small number, but it adds up to the tonnes of plastic waste our cities generate on a daily basis.

Here’s what you can do as a consumer to keep plastic consumption to a minimum

  • Look for brands that have eco-friendly products and packaging
  • Cut down on online orders for products available in your city. Or look for brands that offer in-store pick-up services
  • Visit the local vegetable market or your long-forgotten vendor rather than order online
  • Always carry a foldable/cloth bag for unplanned purchases
  • Opt for stores that sell loose grains, spices and other edibles. You can take your steel containers with you to pack them in

Online boom

The e-commerce industry has numerous benefits — it reaches consumers in remote corners, provides a wide range of products that are otherwise not available, etc., — but its biggest bane is the unregulated and unnecessary use of plastic.

Somewhere, it is also making us consumers lazy. Everything is available at the click of a button — even basic necessities like groceries are now being ordered online (thanks to discounts and cashback offers).

The restaurant around the corner that you walked to is now on an app delivery service, so why take the trouble to walk when food comes home in plastic boxes and with cutlery?

Packed to death

In India, around 43% of manufactured plastics are used for packaging and most are single-use (teriin.org). While Zomato has a ‘no-cutlery’ option, Swiggy continues to send customers cutlery.

For over a year, a friend has been emailing the CEO and sharing posts on social media to find a solution, but to no avail.

When you order your next meal online, keep track of all the plastic they send your way and try and ensure that only what’s necessary comes along.

As for online shopping, the government has asked e-commerce giants like Amazon and Flipkart to eliminate single-use plastics and the companies are reportedly working on eco-alternatives (Amazon has a packaging-free shipment policy for certain products), but there is a long way to go before we see only eco-packaging from brands.

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