There used to be a time when customers took home the goods they bought in paper bags. These were never very attractive to look at. Nor were the buyers too concerned about appearance while the sellers concentrated more on the prices which they commodities fetched than on how they were packaged. Now, everything has to be spick and span and flashy – from the shop fronts and interiors to their customers.
Not surprisingly, the humble, crinkly paper bags had no place in the brave new world of malls and multiplexes. The containers mattered as much as what they contained. Hence, the arrival of the shining, decorated plastic bags which proudly proclaimed the often world famous brand names of the goods inside. No wonder, the buyers flaunted the colourful wrappers as evidence of their wealth and taste.But, the price which the environment has had to pay has been enormous, for only are plastics quietly deadly as a material – parents are routinely warned about keeping them away from children lest they should suffocate by sticking their heads inside – they also emit noxious fumes. As a result, they cannot be burnt and easily disposed of. In addition, dumping them in drains clogs them.
The only way to get rid of them is by burying them. Plastics are regularly used, therefore, at landfill sites. Considering, however, that India generates 15,342 tonnes of plastic every day – a fourfold increase since 1999 – there will never be enough sites to fill. “We are sitting on a plastic time bomb”, as the Supreme Court has said. The need, therefore, is the reduction, recycling and reuse of plastic. But the norms laid down by the municipal solid waste (management and handling) rules are still not strictly observed. Unless remedial measures are quickly taken, a grim future awaits the cities.