Yaana chhabra picks up bottles, bags or anything plastic she sees lying around, even if it is on a crowded street. Ayaana is two-years old.
A part of the five-member Chhabra household in Andheri, Ayaana barely uses any plastic. The Chhabras don’t use plastic bags, line their bins with newspaper instead of garbage bags, and do not even eat packaged food to avoid the plastic wrapping.
In a city where there is plastic waste almost everywhere you look — the railway station, roads and drains — there are many cutting down on plastic. Environmentalists say that being plastic-free is not possible, but there are simple ways to reduce usage.
Plastic bags clogging city drains was cited as one of the main causes for the havoc of July 2005 floods. As of 2008, India used about eight million tonnes of plastic products every year. Plastic comprises 6% of the city's daily solid waste, say civic officials.
“To cut out plastic, start with what you consume,” said Hemant, Ayaana's father, who runs a homestay at his organic farm, Hide Out, in Thane district. “A simple packet of chips leads to plastic accumulation. Eat fresh food, be healthy and eliminate plastic.”
The civic body has plots in every ward, where rag pickers segregate plastic waste that is then sold to private recyclers. But recycling is not enough. For example, a milk packet cannot be recycled into another milk packet. It will be recycled into a lower grade of plastic that can’t be recycled further.
While the Chhabras attempt a plastic-free life, Navy Children School in Colaba is polythene-free. “We are not yet plastic-free, but we banned polythene bags last year,” said principal Girija Singh. Students and teachers do not carry any plastic bags in school. The school has designed red biodegradable bags that is sold for Rs20. The school has not banned plastic containers, but no single-serve PET bottles are allowed. The canteen does not sell even bottled drinks. “Parents tell us that now their children protest if they use plastic at home too,” said Singh.
For Nilima Nagarkar, the ugly view from the train made her cut down on plastic. “Now, our family of four helps spread the plastic-free message,” said the 52-year-old homemaker.
But while awareness drives teach children to be plastic-free, it is not yet part of our culture. At Bhaji Gully, Grant Road, 200 vendors stopped using plastic after the 2005 floods. They sold cloth bags instead. The practice continued for five years, but last year protests began. “Customers wanted vegetables packed separately so we had to use plastic bags,” said Subhash Patil, a vendor.