Carol Andrade column: Nightmare on plastic street

An article that I read this week has woken every one of my guilt feelings about depending so much upon online shopping and takeout for my daily consumption and nutrition (hah) needs.

In fact it has been worrying me for quite some time now that courier companies themselves think nothing of splitting up your orders, so that I have in the recent past, when ordering a small bottle of perfume (yeah, I did that — once), I received three separate parcels wrapped in cling film, then corrugated cardboard, then a tiny buffer of bubble wrap before the kernel was revealed, a 30 ml bottle of perfume that I sniffed and then gave away to my help. And I gave it away with the packaging, effectively removing myself from the endless discussion in my head. Organic or inorganic, metal for regular disposal? Is this plastic film thin enough to be biodegradable? Why in God’s name does the plastics bag fill up so fast?

China, I read, has so many food delivery apps, with concomitant offers of great offers and ridiculously cheap delivery services that everyone is eating out. Which is fine, except that just eating out produced 2 million tons of waste plastic that was then not disposed of safely, ending up in landfills where they will be poisoning the environment for the next 3,000 years.

Living in today’s consumerist society makes every decision to use the internet for all your needs a virtual minefield of disposal decisions. You get these beautifully packaged meals for ten from high-end Chinese (or Burmese or Thai) restaurants and at first sight, everything in the garden is lovely. The containers are so thoughtfully and cunningly chosen, that you can serve the edamame steamed buns in them, the sticky rice looks like it would sneer at the very suggestion that it be transferred into another dish, and look, it makes sense to bring the wasabi on to the table as is with its own little spoon.

After you’ve eaten, the nightmare begins. And the arguments. Go on, stick the wasabi container into the main garbage, it’s so small. Do you want to keep the large containers? For what? To clutter up the fridge even more? Okay smartass you decide. Let’s just stack them up and dispose of them together with the plastic stuff. No, DON’T push them in as is, don’t you have any sense. Wash them out, you want to be carried off in your sleep to the creek by giant cockroaches? Eeeks, I’d rather be carried off than dumped in that filthy, sewage-filled creek. Picky, aren’t you? Now we have to wash all these dirty containers at a time when you KNOW hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from the drought just a few miles from us. Listen, let’s just never order takeout again. Or at least, not until we clear a definite pathway to the front door between these zillions of stacked up containers in the house.

I am not going to compare with other countries, and eating out is not the largest culprit, but plastic waste is a huge problem in India. We generate about 26,000 tonnes a year, 70 per cent of which ends up in our landfills. The US is much worse. First, the per capita consumption of plastic for Americans is ten times more than India. We use around 25 kg on an average per year. But most of what America shoves into its landfills is also used to generate fuel. The rest is probably shipped off to countries like ours.

The thing is, while we recycle marginally better than other countries, and that while we are really low on the totem pole in our consumption, greater use of plastics is considered an indicator of wealth, and policy dictates that by 2022, we start using twice the amount of plastic we use now. This will also give the plastic manufacturing industry more scope for expansion, leading to more jobs. So we can drown in more plastic, I guess.

I know I’m cribbing. But I swear I am going to carry cloth bags around with me from now on.