It's not too late for Goa to do something about it. The action can be taken at all levels of society.
Many many years ago, I would go to the market every day and make sure I returned with at least one plastic carry bag, so that I could line my garbage bin with it, as it was so convenient, leak proof and made emptying the bin so much easier. So each day there would be one large carry bag that took care of the fish, one for vegetables, one for fruits and another one for other groceries. That would total to at least 2-3 bags a day.
Then one day, I saw a cow horribly mooing in pain with remnants of plastic still sticking out of its mouth, perhaps from consuming leftovers disposed off in a plastic carry bag. Coincidently, at the same time I came across an image sent by a friend by email of a dead pelican whose gut was full of pellets of plastic. Another one followed where a crow building its nest with plastic strands had got its neck entangled and eventually choked itself. That was the last straw for me.
In a colony of 74 flats, perhaps we are the only ones composting all our wet waste in a terracotta 3 tiered contraption. But many of the residents now that they are aware of the possibilities want to take care of the garbage that is generated instead of seeing it dumped in a landfill. We have now installed a composting station and are keen to reap in good manure for our plants.
Perhaps there are others who are using cloth carry bags whilst shopping and consciously recycling all their newspapers, milk packets, plastic, biscuit wrappers, tetrapaks, etc. But that's still a small percentage making a choice and affecting a small change. Imagine this scenario- Goa has a population of 15 lakh excluding the floating population of migrant labour, tourists and expats, and we are all victims to the 'plastic carry bag' syndrome which implies an approximate consumption of 15 lakh plastic carry bags a day! Every part of Goa is littered with this nuisance.
Even our forest villages have succumbed to its menace. If you haven't noticed yet, little plastic islands have slowly begun to make an appearance everywhere. Like the ones that have formed in our oceans. And we carry our junk to litter even pristine lands. A recent visit to Savari waterfall in Netravali proved just that. Huge piles of picnic waste- plastic, beer cans, silver lined paper plates, chocolate wrappers, the works.
Isn't it shocking that we are indifferently using a single use throwaway plastic carry bag and letting it ruin our environment? Are we aware of its repercussions? Perhaps we are realizing it now, 20 years of using this wonder material that it simply doesn't disappear.
One can chuck it in somebody else's backyard, a vacant patch in the village or the adjacent one, or in the storm water drain nearby, or the adjacent creek or the river or even behind an unused building! Only to realize that it just doesn't disappear. It resurfaces floating on the river, flying across the road, scattered across the open fields, stuck to low branches on the river banks or in the gut of an unsuspecting animal. And only recently have we realized that it is also poisoning our ground water, stifling our soil, contaminating our food, affecting our livestock, marine life, even the air we breathe, because we have now begun to burn it in a desperate bid to rid from its sticky mess. This will eventually only kill us all.
In the plastic-free days of yore, all our wet waste would be disposed in the backyard where our livestock would feed on it and aid in its disposal. We are doing the same now but with all of it stuffed in plastic! All the other stuff like milk bottles, milk packets in the earlier days was reused, recycled and made into impressive and useful home products.
Now we only throw away and litter. And with populations increasing and consumerism on a steep rise but decreasing kitchen yards, negligible livestock, the capacity to biodegrade such high loads of waste has been majorly impacted. And the new age materials like thermacol, styrofoam, aluminium foil, hard plastic that are impossible to recycle are only making matters worse. But the solution to this lies individually with us and collectively we can bring about a change and improve our environment for our own survival. It's really simple.
If each of us, act as change-makers, by influencing others, making them aware and showing them how, we can clear away these little plastic islands. Let's stop complaining and blaming the authorities, our local bodies. Let's individually take action. Understand the hazards of our actions and clean up our environment, our Goa. It will simply ensure our own survival.
Imagine a scenario where everyone of us responsibly carries a cloth bag or two every time we shop, 30 lakh plastic bags will be saved ending up in our fields, rivers and forests! Every time you buy a product, buy organic with non-plastic packaging. Take extreme care of what you throw out. Compost, reduce, reuse, recycle. Only we can make that choice. A choice for cleaner air, water, soil and food, free from the toxins of a cancer called plastic!
The writer is an architect and pro-environment campaigner who has conducted 'litter-free drives' and collection of picnic litter in Bondla wild life sanctuary and Savari-Netravali wild life sanctuary under the aegis of 'Mission Green Goa'. [TOI]