We are just back from a trip to "Incredible !ndia" -- this is the tag line used by the Indian Ministry of Tourism to promote India around the world, and it's true, India is !ncredible. One might argue that I'm biased because I have Indian roots, but this is a country that grabs everyone by all senses and flys away with you. It is so alive, just teeming with life. And the colours - I love the flowers sold in the street, and the numerous fresh vegetable stands.
We were there to visit family and meet with some of our suppliers. We visited Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. Doing what we do, Chantal and I were always on the lookout for signs and info about the current state of the plastic pollution in India, and what is being done about it. With a population exceeding a billion, over 30% of which live below the poverty level, dealing with plastic waste is a challenge by any measure. And yet, we found many signs of positive action.
Certainly with so many people and so much waste, plastic is a problem, and it is visible wherever one finds garbage. We even saw truckloads of plastic bottles and bags being transported to the mythical "away", likely a landfill.
Apart from increasing overall waste, plastic bags clog drains and increase flooding - the increased flooding creates breeding grounds for malaria and dengue fever. Bags can be a problem in the countryside where vegetables are grown as they break down into increasingly smaller pieces while leaching chemicals into the soil. Bags and other plastic garbage are also eaten by animals, such as cows and dogs, and killing them by clogging their intestines.
Awareness of the problem is growing, and both governments and citizens have taken action over the past decade. Bans on plastic bags have been put in place in numerous municipalites including Mumbai and Delhi and Kolkata. While implementation is an enormous challenge, the bans must be having an effect because compared to our last visit to India ten years ago, the difference is visible. There are clearly fewer plastic bags around, in the stores and on the streets, and many people seem to carry their own reusable bags for shopping (of course, this is a practice that has always been more prevalent in Asia than in the West).
In Mumbai, we came across a plastic bench with the following printed on a small white label attached to it, "Made from Plastic Waste-Recycled". On the grounds of Victoria Memorial in Kolkata we noticed a sign in English, Hindi and Bengali reading, "Avoid Plastic Bags Please. It Is Injurious To Health."
In talking to people - from shopkeepers to executives - it becomes clear that the issue of plastic pollution is one they are aware of and they understand why it is a serious issue. This awareness and willingness to act to decrease plastic use and waste is slowly permeating daily Indian life.
This is one of the things I love about India. As the largest democracy in the world, it is a crazily diverse country and I sometimes marvel that it even works. Yet, with such a varied, colourful and tumultuous history and existence, Indians are accustomed to embracing change and going with the flow. A change may happen overnight or become mired in the famous Indian beaurocracy and stagnate for years, but if it makes sense, the Indian people will accept it and make it a part of their lives quickly.
So as India slowly rises above plastic - and there is lots of rising yet to do because plastic pollution is still a huge problem in India, as in so many other parts of the world - we could all learn from this willingness to accept change.
Jay Sinha, Co-Owner
All photos by Jay.