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The scourge of the plastic bag

My granddaughter, a student of Class V, came home all distraught one day. When questioned she said that she had been scolded in class. Her teacher apparently said that the other day while shopping she had seen Tina with her mother refusing to accept their purchases in the ubiquitous plastic bag offered by the shopkeeper. "I was very impressed," the teacher said. "In contrast here is our friend bringing her tiffin wrapped in not one but two plastic bags. People like her cause grave damage to our environment." While saying this, she kept the frightened girl standing up as a target for scorn.

Over the past few years thin plastic bags have become the standard carry bag while purchasing groceries, provisions, vegetables, etc. Since they cost little, vendors are very generous in handing out these bags at no extra cost to the customer. The plastic used in making these bags is not biodegradable. It cannot be recycled either. And because such bags tear easily they are soon thrown into the garbage can. Thrown out in large numbers, they pollute the environment and block drains and sewers.

Governments, local bodies and citizens are all concerned about combating this menace. Anti-plastic campaigns have spurred the government to appoint a committee to look into the problem and suggest remedial measures. The recommendations include inter alia banning of thin plastic bags, substituting them with a thicker variety, forcing manufacturers to print their name and address on the bags, bringing plastic manufacturing units under the Factories Act and so on.

The thicker variety of bags are substantially costlier and vendors cannot be as generous with them as they now are with the thinner variety. They will have to pass on the cost to the customer. This will bring in much-needed customer resistance and stop the proliferation of plastic bags. These thicker bags can be recycled too.

Public awareness is essential to combat this menace. But a few individuals not accepting these bags and posing as upright citizens will not even dent the problem because of its sheer size. Organised bodies like Navy Nagar or large housing complexes banning plastic bags in their areas can to some extent help fight the scourge. But to eradicate this nuisance the government must act.

Tina or her mother refusing to accept plastic bags will not solve the problem and another girl wrapping her tiffin box in two plastic bags will not aggravate it. The teacher concerned about damage to the environment could have made the students aware of the problem instead of acting agitated and sanctimoniously making a child the target of her ire, especially when the child herself played no part in the act.

P.K.K. Menon