Carbon footprint: the number of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by you (by doing certain activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period.
When you buy something, you are responsible for any negative impact of manufacturing that item, and also what happens once you dispose it. Out of all our waste, plastics are the most treacherous (and now the most abundant) as they take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose. I spoke with a friend and Sustainable Development Consultant – Megha Kedia about this topic, and she advised that:
“Wherever we can avoid [plastic] we should. Use, packaging free shampoo, or reusable cloth bags for grocery [as these are] easy things to incorporate initially. Also, a good rule of thumb is to avoid using plastics that can only be used once”.
Likewise, carrying a mug, some basic cutlery and a water bottle when going out, will reduce your waste production and set a good example for others. Often, these disposable plates and cups are lined with plastic (to avoid leakage) so don’t be deceived! Further, drinking and eating out of plastic is not healthy.
Megha said: “plastic is made from renewable sources which means they have a tonne of chemicals.. and need to be treated with chemicals to be stabilized, which are bad for the body (like BPA in plastic bottles.. [which affects] your sex hormones)… when they are trashed, chemicals leach into the soil and groundwater and create a cycle of contamination.”
The same goes for white paper – it is bleached (contains chlorine) and like plastic, when it goes into landfills, it contaminates the groundwater and soil. I’m on the lookout for chlorine free notebooks, but I’ve had no luck so far. Please comment below if you know of any. (:
Even though recycling your plastics is a step in the right direction, consciously purchasing items made from stainless steel or glass is equally important. Megha said: “As long as there’s a demand [for plastic], it makes business sense to produce it…. there needs to be a shift in consumer preference away from plastic.” Brands like Conscious Foods sell all their oils and other food items in glass containers, not only can these bottles be re-purposed, they also maintain the integrity of the product inside, keeping it pure and safe to use.
Can Plastic be banned completely?
If you drive along the coastal roads in Mumbai, you can see the amount of trash the sea has coughed out this monsoon. Fortunately, Maharashtra has now banned certain types of plastic and more regulations may follow. A helpful excerpt from the Economic Times on the Maharashtra Plastic Ban goes as follows:
“Is there a ban on plastic packaging for medical purpose?– NO.
Is there a ban on raincoat/tarpaulin sheets/pens/plastic wrapper of biscuits, chips etc? –NO.
Is there a ban on plastic/thermocol packaging of products at the manufacturing stage? –NO,” she said in another tweet.
Is there a ban on high quality carry bags issued erstwhile by malls/shops?- YES.
Is there a ban on plastic/thermocol decorative items?- YES.
Is there a ban on disposable cutlery, plates, bowls, cups etc?- YES.
Is there a ban on Non-Woven polypropylene bags?- YES,” she added.
Use of plastic bags by shops and malls have also been banned.”
In case you don’t know what non-woven polypropylene bags are, they are tear and water resistant bag that has a slightly glossy finish and have the appearance of cloth. Some food stores use this kind of bag, I’ve found a lot of hotel laundry and shoe bags are made out of this material too.
Megha said: “I don’t think we can ban plastic completely. There are some products, processes, industry that require plastic. But it must be banned from auxiliary uses like grocery shops, or plastic straws etc…
Increasing the price of plastic/petroleum based products (for coke bottles or beverage containers) will drive consumer preference away from plastic and encourage R&D in alternatives. It has to be a market-based mechanism…
In medicine, it’s really important, because it ensures one-time use and sterility”
Other ways to reduce waste
- Switching to a menstrual cup is one of the biggest ways you can reduce your bathroom waste. I’ve been using a shecup for 2 months and my experience has been very pleasant. Swap your plastic/cotton pads for cloth panty liners and you will have a zero waste period!
- As Megha said above, use hair soap and body soap instead of bottled products. Soap will have less plastic packaging and sometimes even none at all.
- Stainless-steel razors are more sustainable than plastic ones. Disposable razors are not meant to last you very long and we end up going through so many in a matter of a few years.
- The next time you buy a towel opt to buy a thin cotton one instead. They do the job perfectly, take up less space and are far more gentle on the skin than the bulky ones we’re used to.
- Face wash containing non-biodegrade micro-beads we’ve known this for so long but these products are still sold in the market, which means people still don’t know about its impact. Watch this 2-minute video above to understand why micro-beads are pointless in cosmetics and harmful to the environment.
- When buying cotton buds make sure they have a paper steam as opposed to plastic ones
- ‘Zero waste’ fanatics have been switching to bamboo/ wooden toothbrushes – they can be recycled or put in the compost. However, according to the Amazon.in reviews, they are not very effective. The most sustainable form of dental care is using a Neem stem like they still do in some villages in India. Most ancient personal care practices were 0 waste. Please leave a comment below if you’ve ever used neem for dental hygiene, would love to hear about your experience with it. It acts as a toothpaste and toothbrush in one and apparently tastes very bitter.
- Drugstore toothpastes contain harmful chemicals (fluoride) and micro-beads (mentioned above) here’s a homemade toothpaste recipe.
- Take shorter showers. We’re all familiar with this one so I’m not going to add anything except say that bucket baths are just as good if not better! You can add some oils (like coconut oil and lavender essential oil) or bath salts to make it smell nice and luxurious.
- Make sure you’re using what’s already in your house first – for instance reusing old alcohol bottles for water storage. One reason why brands don’t sell products in glass because they want to make the product as cheap as possible so more people can buy it. But if they know that people are willing to pay a little extra for the glass then they will switch too.
- One of the first things you can do to reduce your plastic/ waste is to buy loose leaf tea. There is a lot of unnecessary packaging, so just buy a tea strainer and you’re set for life. I personally like seeing my tea, who knows whats inside those tiny packets.
- Bulk-buy your essential and high shelf life items, like rice and daal and plan your meals around these staples so that you are using it up.
- Opt for silicon items over paper or plastic – people are now using silicon mats instead of baking paper.
- If you must use a straw, choose glass, stainless steel or bamboo ones.
- Replacement for aluminum foil comes in form of reusable, beeswax wraps – suitable for food packaging or to keep cut fruit or veg in the fridge. You can buy it online from an Australian brand called Wrappa or make your own at home.
- Clothing brands (especially fast fashion) use large amounts of water and electricity during the manufacturing process, they also allow untreated dyes to seep into the public waterways. Buy second-hand items, and try and make your clothes last for a longer period of time (increase the durability of your clothes). Each time we manufacture new clothes, more power and water is being consumed, it can take up to 2,700 liters to produce the cotton needed to make a single t-shirt (WWF).
- Instead of buying expensive cosmetic products continually, make your own at home to space out the time between purchasing more items. Better yet, use a multipurpose oil (like coconut oil) that can work as a hair mask, makeup remover, moisturizer, mouth rinse, for cooking, lip oil, etc… so you’re reducing the need for individual products.
- Try making your own cleaning supplies, for this you only require household staples like lime, white vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, olive oil, essential oils, salt and soap nuts. Below is a video using all these ingredients to make daily cleaning items, skip to 4:15 to get to the recipes. Use an old t-shirt to work the product into a surface, or an old towel for tougher areas.
- When you follow a vegan diet you’re only eating whole foods that are not heavily packaged or not packaged at all (raw fruits and veggies). All your food waste can be easily composted and you will create no trash. Even diets that restrict junk foods are good as you are buying less plastic packet-ed items. In Ayurveda, eating fresh food is recommended for good digestion. I have tried out vegan and vegetarian diets and as hard as they were at first, I saw amazing changes in my body and it’s made me more conscious of the food I consume. Further, eat fruit and veg that has been sourced locally, as imported goods carry a larger carbon-footprint as they have to be transported to India.
- Switching off lights and fans when they are not being used is a good start to conserving energy. One can also opt for alternative sources of energy like Solar Energy, AE Solar Solutions is a good Indian company you can contact for installation. Also, switch out your disposable batteries with rechargeable batteries.
Separating your waste
- Keeping separate bins for paper, glass, food waste and non-recyclables, can help reduce the negative effects of your waste. Paper and glass can be recycled – which means less strain on the manufacture of new paper and glass.
- Composting your kitchen and garden waste will re-purpose your kitchen waste and also help keep the soil in your plant pots or garden fertile. For compost, you need a combination of nitrogen and carbon-rich leftovers. nitrogen: fruits and vegetable scraps, garden weeds, green leaves, flowers, coffee, tea bags and carbon: dry leaves, newspaper, sawdust, wood ash, straw/hay, crushed eggshells. Add turmeric and chili powder to limit the presence of flies or maggots. The compost must be churned daily until it turns into a mud-like substance after about 2 weeks. Do not put plastic, metal, bones, meat, glass, cheese, bio-hazards into your compost.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxKfpt70rLI – How to compost