Before the advent of ‘use once only’ plastic products
K S S Pillai
Single-use plastic goods are again in the news. The environmentalists want to stop their continued use immediately. Our government has further tightened the law, threatening the law-breakers with a punishment of jail term or a hefty fine.
Those who take part in heated television discussions say it is not the use of plastic that is the villain, but the ‘use once only’ tag. There is no cheap alternative to plastic bags, and those habituated to their use would find ways to circumvent the law, they warn.
For several years, I had been going to the market without any carry bags. Whatever I bought were taken home in plastic carry bags provided by the shopkeepers. In the vegetable market, the vendors could pack potatoes, onions and other items in thin plastic bags beforehand instead of weighing them in front of the customers. An added advantage for the shopkeepers was that they could prevent the customers from selecting only the best, discarding those of inferior quality.
I was getting used to drinking tea from small plastic cups at tea shops. The quantity was far below my usual dose and the price high. It is said the brew will soon be served in clay cups at teashops, including those at railway stations and airports. Politicians in power say it would provide employment to our potters.
Those who oppose argue that it is not a viable solution in the long run. They point out that using so much clay for the single-use cups will cause an environmental disaster. While I leave it to the parties concerned to settle the matter, I enjoy my morning tea at home in tall reusable glasses without any worry about causing environmental damage.
Born before the wonder material called plastic made its appearance in various forms to the delight of people around the world, I feel the only way to save our planet from serious plastic pollution is to return to our ways of life before its advent. They were the days when bags of different sizes made of old newspapers were available in the market.
Shopkeepers would use them to pack goods. They would be bound by cotton or jute strings hanging from above. Making paper bags using homemade glue was a thriving business. Shopkeepers used to buy old newspapers, and bags would be made at home by the womenfolk or even children. Customers would bring cloth bags into which the goods would be dropped. Jute bags were used to pack large quantities of grains, cement and similar items. For the discerning customers, some shopkeepers used costlier bags made of thick, virgin brown papers.
While going to the fish market in the evening, we used to carry small baskets made of bamboo. They would be washed later to get rid of the smell. Those were the days when the fishmongers did not keep weighing scales. They would dump fish into the basket, trusting their hands to hand out the right measure of fish. Some people would pluck large leaves from the hedges near the market and get their fish in them. Some would carry old newspapers. Every household would keep baskets of different sizes smeared periodically with cow dung for shopping larger quantities.
Those who did not have enough coconut trees in their compound to extract cooking oil would buy loose oil in large glass bottles brought from home. There was hardly any case of adulteration of cooking oils.
Wedding feasts were also quite different those days. A pandal would be raised in the compound of the bride’s house. Neighbours and friends would lend a helping hand in cooking food at home, guided by experts. It would be served to guests, seated on the ground, in banana leaves or dry, stitched leaves of sufficient size. Water was served in glasses. The host himself would take a round and greet the guests. There was no worry about disposing of large heaps of ‘use once only’ plastic items.
(The author is a retired professor of English. A regular contributor to ‘The Kashmir Vision’, his articles and short stories have appeared in various national and international publications)