When it comes to the environment, there is a definite truth to the cliché, ‘change begins with us’.
The first plastic straw you refuse holds the potential to change the planet.
This might seem like an overly idealistic point of view but if the potential of ‘good’ lies in every human being, then how can the ideal always be out of reach? Cleaning our environment does seem like a daunting task, no doubt, especially when your visual senses are taken aback with mountainous piles of garbage we see on our daily route to work or on the news – ‘what can I do’, you probably wonder? In one way we are perhaps overwhelmed, but in another, we are too individualistic and separated from the environment. We forget that often it’s the small steps, every day, that lead to the big goal, for the greater good. And refusing a plastic straw at every step of the way is perhaps one of the easiest ways to beat plastic pollution at the individual level.
Every year, World Environment Day is celebrated on June 5 to serve as a reminder of the value of nature, which capitalism and consumerism have overshadowed with their instantaneous gratifications. Nature is resilient and has withstood the consistent damage we, collectively, as human beings have been causing it since the onset of the industrial revolution, but it is crumbling under pressure now. Your belief, or lack thereof, in climate change needn’t be a hindering factor in seeing the actual adverse change taking place in the environment. The change isn’t conspicuous, it’s insidious so we must rest aside our differences and lay faith in scientific findings that have been pointing towards the potentially irreversible damage facing us.
There are some hard truths: Our sheer dependency on plastic is a hard truth. The resilient nature of plastic is a hard truth – it can take up to 200 years to biodegrade, and even then it won’t be fully wiped off our planet. Maybe that’s why the United Nations chose ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ as its theme this year in order to fully come to terms with the unbreakable nature of plastic that is tearing our environment, and hurting its residents – including us.
Some plastic items will be harder to remove from our lives than others – for example, the laptop you work on, or the car you drive, or the phone you use, or the microwave you heat your food in, or even the clothes you wear. There are others, however, that can be slowly removed from your life for reasons that will improve both your life and the environment (the greater good) for the better. These are mostly single-use plastic items that are a reflection of our abusive consumerism and use-and-throw culture.
This brings me back to plastic straws. Have you ever stopped and wondered about the purpose of a straw? What premise was it invented on? Aren’t adults absolutely capable of sipping a drink without inhaling it through a pout glued to a plastic stick? Yet plastic straws have become a ubiquitous feature of our food lives that we accept without the slightest curiosity of ‘why?’. As there are no India-centric statistics on this, let’s turn to the United States of America – every year Americans use 500 million plastic straws daily (were it not for grammar, this sentence merits a line of exclamation marks). That is a preposterously lofty figure that should start off all possible alarm bells in our brain.
According to the UN World Environment Day press release, in the last decade we produced more plastic than in the whole last century. And in August 2016, according to the International Union of Geological Science (the organisation in charge of defining Earth’s time scale), we officially entered the Anthropocene Era – the period where human beings and the industrious scale of their activities has (and continues to) influenced the climate and environment in harmful ways.
Change is not a lofty ideal beyond us. The literal definition of change is ‘make or become different’. You can make a difference by turning down any single-use plastic item – plastic straw, or plastic bag – and with that take one step towards becoming different for the environment, for nature, thus for you, and thus for all of us.
Video by the Video Volunteers Team
Article by Shreya Kalra, a member of the VV Editorial Team