Plastic — Shouldn’t live with it, can’t live without it

Non-Sustainable vs Sustainable

In the past few days, my life has been turned upside down. Every citizen in Mumbai is in a similar predicament. Plastic carry bags and disposable one -use food containers and cutlery have been banned by the civic authorities. Definitely a move in the right direction. Forcing everyone to change their lifestyle, for the better. Eventually. But what to do in the meantime is the problem for all of us. With the monsoon season, a whole host of mundane but seemingly insurmountable difficulties surround us.

How do you send your child’s craft project to school-clean and dry- without the ubiquitous protective plastic bag?
How do you carry food from a takeaway, on the way home from work, if you’ve genuinely forgotten to bring your own container?
How does anyone with a fractured limb bathe at home without the help of a plastic bag to keep the plaster cast bone dry?

It’s a sad but inescapable fact that plastic has invaded our lives. As a farmer’s wife, I have seen over the last 30 years, how even in a village close to Mumbai, plastic is a part of our day to day lives.
All our farm produce is grown organically. That’s a personal policy we have chosen to follow in our fruit orchard. However, transportation of farm produce has undergone a change.

Take our organic manure from one part of our farm to another in a jute sack? A jute sack? 30 years ago …yes. Nowadays, not a chance! It’s cheap plasticky- weave sacks that are the only option.
Need 500 saplings to be transported from a nursery to our farm? No problem. They’ll send the whole load in individual black plastic packets!
Transport our organic produce in a cane basket? There’s neither cane nor the basket weavers in the village anymore. So we use plastic crates for this. These are sturdy and will last many years of tough use. But in the end, it’s plastic which could break, crack and end up in a landfill.

So how can I live a life with less plastic? Even plastic of the reusable long lasting kind. Not an easy option. To change over completely will take time and sustained effort. But I’ll enlist here the few ways in which I have successfully eliminated plastic from almost all of my adult life.

At my farmhouse, I store daily use fruit and vegetables in large perforated stainless steel vessels with lids, on the kitchen counter. They also protect them from field mice who may slip in through an open window and enthusiastic large well-fed pet dogs who believe that they too should eat what we eat.

I have not used plastic clingfilm to wrap food in more than 20 years. If a recipe calls for the dough to be chilled I just wrap it in a clean muslin cloth or butter paper and put it in a stainless steel box. If assembling a salad for more than 15 people ahead of serving, I’ll toss the ingredients in a glass bowl and cover with a metal lid, making sure that the lid does not touch the salad ingredients. Though not sealed as tightly as if I had used cling film the salad remains crunchy and moist.

I do all my baking- cakes, cupcakes, cookies and pastries- in regular aluminum pans without any Teflon coating. I have also never baked in silicone. And I have not really had any problems with burning or sticking during the baking process or turning out the cakes/ pastry from the pan afterward.

I make chapattis, and dosas, on a regular cast iron tavaa(griddle); pancakes on a thick-bottomed aluminum pan, without Teflon coating. Again I don’t have any major problems with food burning or sticking to the vessel.

I store all my home-made jams, pickles, chutneys and fruit juice concentrates in glass bottles or jars. There is a minimal use of plastic here in the form of the bottle cap or jar lid, metal ones being prone to rust.

I use only glass containers to reheat food in the microwave.

These are essential ways in which I do not use plastic. These are also the easy ways in which I have done without plastic. But as I said at the beginning the transition to zero plastic will be painful. It may decrease but I don’t believe I could really live without plastic (even the high-quality reusable kind).
Chances are you are like me…with a love-hate relationship with plastic….
so while the civic authorities dilly-dally with the deadline and the logistics for banning plastic bags, and while they still have to provide citizens with viable convenient and sustainable options to plastic, I will continue to look for ways to live without plastic. Maybe next time I might find a useful alternative to plastic in other key areas in my life, whether in the city or in the village.



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