About four or five decades ago, plastic was a novelty which fascinated each and every one. Anything and everything made of plastic tempted us to get our hands on at least something of that new material! In the earlier days whatever we used, whether it was school bags, tiffin box or the various things used in different parts of the household or elsewhere, were made of various metals, mainly steel and aluminum, and mud pots used specially for fish curry and that too in various hues and sizes.
School bags and bags to buy consumables and perishables were usually sewn out of old clothing by the women in the family. The disposal of those items was hardly a problem in those days as it was just an exchange of old for new, which could be recycled easily, and thus they hardly created the pile of garbage as in the extensive use of plastic material seen today. But the magnetic ubiquitous appeal of plastic was completely ingrained in us for its satisfactory and easy use in every sphere of domestic, commercial and industrial activity.
It was only when in the year 1972 I got married to a doctor in Kanhangad, a small town in northernmost Kerala, that I saw the largest number of plastic containers of all sizes and colours being used for pills, capsules and injections in my husband’s pharmacy. Relatives who dropped in to see me, a girl from far off Bombay, now Mumbai, would with an eye on the plastic containers, end up with booking them one by one whenever they got emptied.
True to their desire, they would land at my home from time to time and take them when and where they desired. There was no way I could turn down their requests for fear of hurting my newly found relations. When all the plastic containers had been taken away, I had one of them getting irritated as I told her the fact. She told me in no uncertain terms that she and her family could afford ‘gold containers’ but wanted the plastic containers only for the fun of it. When new clothes bought from shops were given in plastic bags, we would request the shopkeepers for a few empty ones to be used whenever necessary. There was always the fear that paper bags then in vogue would get torn all of a sudden, spilling the contents.
The arrival of plastic bags seemed to be a boon as anything under the sun could be carried in them safely without any tension. But down the years, plastic bags have become an environmental hazard, and a great hazard for children of all ages. Rivers and any water body worth mentioning at all the possible picnic spots now have the leftovers in plastic bags and plastic bottles, at times killing animals which ingest the plastic bags with their food. Thankfully, the medical waste is today being taken away by the IMAGE, a project now implemented in Kerala. To say goodbye to plastic, the only sensible contribution we can make is to revert to carrying a large cloth bag whenever we step out for shopping.