Alternatives to Plastic Bags?

Text – Swati Ramakrishnan

The first time I heard that the preservation of our environment was the “need of the hour” was in my fifth class. More than 10 years later and innumerable conferences later, the deteriorating condition of the environment still seems to be the “need of the hour!” If anything, the situation seems to have worsened, what with the global warming and all.

Alternatives to plastic bags

I feel the main problem is that we just talk about it and make pretentious speeches. We declare that we SHOULD do something for the environment instead of ACTUALLY doing it. When I was 12, I took up an assignment that kept me busy all summer, while simultaneously helping me to do what I can for Mother Nature. I collected all the old newspapers I could lay my hands on (they were going to go the Raddiwaala anyway), took a pair of scissors and gum from my mother’s cabinet, and made paper bags.

Dozens and dozens of paper bags made from premier quality English newspapers. I didn’t stop just yet. I went down and handed these bags to every shopkeeper I frequented and requested them to use them as often as they could. Who could possibly say “No” to an enthusiastic little girl! I was ecstatic at the success of my eco-friendly plan. Eventually, I ran out of newspapers and my summer vacations ended as well, so did my big plans to single-handedly save the environment!

Today, rising awareness has opened the eyes of many young Indians to alternative lifestyles that could be easily adopted. I see people using trash cans for a change and even reuse things; I see people reprimanding strangers who assume the world is one gigantic dustbin. The flea markets sell a lot of cloth and jute bags. Current fashion revolves around the environmentally conscientious individual. Cloth-based bags such as jute, cotton are great alternatives as they are both biodegradable and reusable. Although paper bags seem to be a good choice, it causes more harm than good because it is sourced from wood, leading to destruction of forests.

Wicker baskets have also become trendy these days as gifts are being packaged in these bags, making them aesthetically as well as environmentally pleasing! Further, reusable nylon bags such as the ones made by SmallSteps, which can be folded down to the size of your cell phone, are another good option as they are quite handy. A reusable shopping bag, or so called ‘bag for life’ is made of canvas, woven synthetic fibres, or a thick polymer that is more durable than disposable plastic bags. Leather bags are also an option, but will not last long if used for shopping veggies and groceries.

Alternatives to plastic bags
SmallSteps foldable bag

Here is a list of alternatives you can try instead of plastic or polymer bags –

  • Cotton bags – simple and elegant but low lift strength
  • Jute bags coated with plastic – trendy and waterproof
  • Newspaper bags – neither reusable nor waterproof
  • Nylon bags – foldable, reusable and extremely handy – SmallSteps
  • Banana fibre bags – trendy, eco-friendly and durable

In 2002, the Irish government imposed a plastic bag consumption tax (called PlasTax), which has reduced consumption by 90%. The tax of $0.15 per bag is paid by consumers when they check out at the store. Big retail chain stores in India like Bigbazaar, Lifestyle, Spencer’s and others have begun charging a nominal amount for plastic bags, thereby encouraging customers to carry their own bags!

While the awareness about plastic waste was rising, but I feel the tide really turned when people realised that drainage pipes clogged with plastic and other waste material caused the massive flooding in Mumbai in 2005. Soon village panchayats and cities across the country began to ban plastic bags. Some eco-sensitive hillstations such as Ooty, Mahabaleshwar have gone in for a complete ban of all plastic and polymer bags, while bigger cities have chosen to ban only plastic bags with less than 50 micron thickness. (Bags thinner than this level, are not feasible to collect and recycle)

The Dapoli Nagar panchayat (a small town in Maharashtra) not only banned plastic bags, but also provided a solution in the form of bags made out of old sarees (Jusapi). The panchayat persuaded vegetable and fruit vendors to discard plastic bag usage for at least 1-2 hours daily for a week by which time they were convinced that a plastic-free existence was, indeed, possible.

Alternatives to plastic bags
Banana fiber wicker bag

Video – DIY Newspaper Bag

Factfile –