Thursday, April 09, 2015

Paper or Plastic?

Being environment friendly is tough. Mostly because we humans still don't know what's good for the environment. Remember when we were children and there were no plastic bags? If you went to a shop without your own shopping bag, the shopkeeper packed your stuff in brown paper bags or ones made with newspaper. But those bags weren't reusable and often tore before you reached home.
Then came the plastic. It was hailed as a revolution because here was a product that's durable, reusable, tough and also 'environment friendly' - meaning you are not hurting the trees anymore for your paper bags.
Plastic became universally acceptable until they discovered that plastic contaminated food. It also clogs the rivers and seas, enters the food chain, is killing birds, animals and causing cancer in people. Environment friendly? Far from it. The last decade saw plastic being branded the biggest threat to our environment. Governments reacted by banning plastic bags but what's the alternative found by people?
You guessed it right. Paper. Recycled brown paper bags came back again and the elite flaunted them along with their Prada bags. You go to any upmarket deli or cafe and they pack stuff in paper bags. Because it is cool. And somehow, 'environment friendly' again. Of course, the spurt in paper demand means the trees took a hit. And trees aren't just standalone things. They prevent soil erosion, create mini ecosystems around them so cutting a tree is bad for the environment too. Which is why plastic got there in the first place.
Luckily, paper didn't catch up with everyone.  People are slowly going back to the cloth bags now. It may be unfashionable to carry a stained yellow bag you got for free from a garment store in Madras, but for now that seems to be the lesser evil.
But what if you weren't carrying a cloth bag for once and had to buy something? And the shopkeeper gave you the option to choose between a plastic bag and a paper bag? That is not a hypothetical question by the way. It is a real dilemma you will face. What would you choose then?
Paper or plastic?
Cutting down a tree or adding to the already unmanageable garbage in the seas?
There is no right answer. If there is, I don't know it yet. I'd probably choose plastic because it is reusable and that means I can delay the destruction my choice is bound to unleash, no matter what I choose.
What would you do?

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