With all the buzz around sustainability, climate change and plastic pollution, it is good to see businesses around the world including PepsiCo and Nestle starting to talk about eco-friendly choices. Everyday, news reports highlight the innovative strategies of businesses to combat plastic pollution.

For decades, we have been polluting our environment with plastic disposables, obsessed with the use-and-throw culture. Now we read about many inventions to replace plastic disposables with other types of disposables that are environment-friendly, labelled as pro-earth, biodegradable, compostable, food-grade etc.

But are we going in the right direction by replacing one kind of disposable with another which is less harmful? Have we thought about the whole life cycle of these disposables – from manufacturing, segregation, collection to processing of the waste we generate?

The invention of plastic was supposed to save trees by replacing papers. We have fooled one whole generation in the name of recycling, and given rise to the dependency on plastic.

Now, are we fooling another generation in the name of biodegradable and eco-friendly disposables? Is non-biodegradability the only problem? Are disposables the only solution? Why do we use and throw? Why don’t we adopt a green circular economy where we don’t throw things away after single use, and keep reusing as long as it lasts?

With the climate change emergency, water crisis and air pollution, we can’t afford to get it wrong this time. Sustainability means reducing our carbon footprint and retaining nature’s cycle to return back to earth whatever we consume.

Our problem is not only recycling, but the cycle of recycling – from manufacturing, shipping, segregating, collecting and processing. We need to go back to a circular economy following the 5 Rs hierarchy of sustainability – Refuse, Reduce and Reuse, before Recycle and Remove.

So, here are some of the tips for businesses like Chai Point, Swiggy, Zomato and BigBasket who are showing the right intent in this direction, but with misguided choices: 

We need to leverage every opportunity to refuse single use, reduce disposables, reuse, then rot (compost whatever we can), and only the very last resource should be recycled. Only then can we claim to be ‘pro-Earth’, ‘eco-friendly’, and so on.

We need to start thinking of the whole product cycle before calling something sustainable. Change needs to come from business design, right from inception. Some of us refusing single use can only bring about so much change. It leads to personal satisfaction and inspires some, but can’t keep pace with climate change. Sustainability is not a project or campaign. It’s a mindset, way of mindful consumption and owning producer’s responsibility.

Let’s redesign businesses and let’s rewire our lifestyle to think outside the box. We don’t have enough time left to go wrong once again.

The second in a series of two articles from Citizen Matters, commissioned on the back of the failed Copenhagen summit. Read about your city’s carbon emissions and what is being done to cut them down.

On September 20th, Bengaluru will participate in the Global Climate Strike. This will be followed by a series of events till September 27th

Join the Whitefield community as they celebrate green living on February 22nd. With workshops, walks, children’s activities, sale of eco-friendly products and more, there’s something in store for everybody.

I agree with the author regarding encouraging more use of reusable utensils and cutlery. But about areca plates, I have reservations. As many have commented, it may take some 6 months to disintegrate. Being hard and strong, it takes that much time to decompose. But as a natural product, atleast it does not harm the environment. If not used in plates, these leaves fall at the bottom of the tree and stay there for the same six months. So better to use tham and reduce plastic usage.

I read about castor leaf stems being used as straws, and given to tender coconut vendors by BBMP. These plants grow everywhere like weeds. I think this is a good solution to the plastic straw menace. Wheat husk straws may be good, but they need to be manufactured, involving resources.

Great thoughts. However, what is not practiced by masses will not be useful. We have to find ways to dispose better rather than culminating the usage itself. Let us do the best in all possible opportunities, but given the life style today and the amount of travel we do nowadays, governments and NGOs should play a major role to segregate and dispose items effectively.

Silly article ! Reusing cutlery also leaves carbon footprint ! You waste lot of water washing utensils & not to forget detergents & supply chain which will eventually pollute & increase cost . 6 months for decomposition is not a very long time so be careful before commenting on biodegradable disposable products !

Hey writer, in first place areca sheeth plates are natural. even though u through outskirts of city it will decompose 6month or so, not like plastic. While decomposing nothing harmful will cause to the earth. Secondly these baggas or wheat waste products may include bit of chemical because it needs to get mould. Simple paste will not take shape. So please do not write negative about any product which leads to miss conception among people.

Well thought over and researched. Can come only when one is seriously concerned abt the environment. I hv thought over it a lot n i would call myself a pessimist and i dont see a way out. What we need to cut down first is population.

Well written article. I bet Seema is practising sustainable lifestyle too because only then such thoughts can arise on sustainability. I agree on all major points, mainly areca, but then there are umpteen reasons why businesses use single use cutlery. Can be reduced certainly.

Appreciate your efforts and time you put in to craft such an insightful article.I will share it across as most of the points are absolutely perfect.Thanks!

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Seema – well written, except the Areca part. Businesses choose disposables for various reasons – reduced water consumption being last, reduced manpower at the top. Areca sheaths are way better than plastic and compared to the carbon+water footprint of cane-bagase, favour tilts for Areca, at least it biodegrades in less than a year as against a hundred or more for plastic! Best is to reduce using disposables, a change in lifestyle and tinkering the mindset.

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