Can paper straws save the world? Weighing our green choices

Mar 11, 2023 01:32 AM IST

It’s the little paper straw against a planet slowly destroying itself. Do our little switches really add up to big differences for Earth?

By all means, skip the Uber and bicycle to work instead. Switch to a bamboo toothbrush. Stop using plastic straws, or packaged drinks. But don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t always do it all.

Switch to a bamboo toothbrush and wood-stem cotton swabs, by all means. But remember that addressing the climate crisis is more than a consumer choice. (Shutterstock)
Switch to a bamboo toothbrush and wood-stem cotton swabs, by all means. But remember that addressing the climate crisis is more than a consumer choice. (Shutterstock)

Singer Taylor Swift’s private jet (used by her, and loaned out to other celebrities) flew 170 times between January and July last year, producing carbon emissions worth 8,293.54 tonnes, roughly 1,184.8 times more than the average person would produce in a year.

Take your cloth tote with you on shopping trips. Save tailoring scraps to make more totes. Befriend the tailor so that you can repair, repurpose and get years more use from each garment. Fabric manufacture, fast fashion, and mass manufacture are terribly hard on the environment.

Meanwhile, American stores Walmart, Target and Home Depot were the largest ocean-import polluters of 2021. Goods were shipped from around the world into the US as e-commerce demands skyrocketed. Urban Indians are starting to mimic the same buying pattern: Want it? Just order it.

Product manufacturers say they’re just catering to demand. Shipping and transport firms say they’re just getting goods to where they’re needed. Food services say they’re just feeding people. Fashion brands say they’re creating jobs. It’s no one’s fault, really. Except yours? (Shutterstock)
Product manufacturers say they’re just catering to demand. Shipping and transport firms say they’re just getting goods to where they’re needed. Food services say they’re just feeding people. Fashion brands say they’re creating jobs. It’s no one’s fault, really. Except yours? (Shutterstock)

Skincare companies no longer make face scrubs with microbeads that might choke fish when flushed out to sea. Six-pack cans are no longer secured by plastic rings that can trap baby turtles. Indian food-delivery services now send meals out in paper bags, so that strays and cattle don’t munch on plastic bags as they forage in garbage dumps.

Meanwhile, 71% of Earth’s greenhouse-gas emissions generated for the last two decades have come from just 100 companies. Each of these has green initiatives, stated emission-reduction targets and independent green auditors. But not one yet has a global buy-back, recycling or reuse programme for their products. Instead, each has been producing more products every year, with wider advertising campaigns.

Product manufacturers say they’re just catering to demand. Shipping and transport firms say they’re just getting goods to where they’re needed. Food services say they’re just feeding people. Fashion brands say they’re creating jobs. It’s no one’s fault, really.

Except yours? As the climate crisis intensifies, it will be vital to push for change at every level, but especially at the levels where it is most needed. That level is not the consumer.

Even if you make every little green switch you can, it will not do the job.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make every green switch that you can. Every bit really does count. But rather than torture yourself for using a plastic toothbrush, take the fight to where the battle really is.

Support green policies, push companies and politicians to prioritise reduced carbon emissions and offset deadlines. Vote for governments that hold companies and governments accountable.

Because little green switches are never going to add up to the big ones by themselves.

Follow @TheGreaterBombay on Twitter and @thegreaterbombay on Instagram

From HT Brunch, March 11, 2023

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rachel Lopez is a a writer and editor with the Hindustan Times. She has worked with the Times Group, Time Out and Vogue and has a special interest in city history, culture, etymology and internet and society.

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