Help! My Kitchen is Drowning in Plastic

And I feel choked.

Jahnabee Borah

My middle-class, small-town background spurred me on to embrace the big city life; because it seemed to my impressionable mind, a swift move towards sophistication and affluence. Mumbai is maddeningly fast-paced and one needs quick fixes, convenient hacks and budget-friendly options that are neatly packaged in shiny plastic bags. 

Scarred by turmeric-and-mold-stained kitchen wipes fashioned out of old clothes from my mom’s kitchen, I bought multi-coloured, quick-dry sponge wipes and kitchen rolls in dozens. Hand gloves are my saving grace for days when my maid is on leave (mostly the last-minute unannounced kind). My worst nightmare is dirty dishes and there’s always extra dishwashing liquid or soap. Small joys in life include ek-par-ek free.

My mom would arduously prepare masala pastes with her trusted sil-batta, make dahi and paneer from scratch, while ready-made trumps for someone who has spent 15 years in Mumbai. A transition from PG to a rented apartment meant stocking the kitchen with cheap but cute containers and cutlery. Mostly, plastic.     

Apparently, I am not alone. Single-use plastic in the kitchen forms the bulk of plastic waste in a household. 

Also read: From hawkers to hotels: How is Mumbai coping with the Plastic Ban

Reality Check 

But, of course I am eco conscious. I jumped into the #RefuseTheStraw movement last year, carry clothe bags for grocery shopping and prefer to go thirsty than drink from plastic bottled water. 

I believed there was no blood in my hands until I peeked into my weekly grocery shopping bag. Grains, bread, dairy, spices and vegetables secured in plastic packaging, fruits cushioned with styrofoam and kitchen-cleaning essentials with plastic packaging sit neatly in my kitchen cupboards that are replenished every weekend. Proof lies in the pictures here. 

According to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2016, Maharashtra generated the highest plastic waste in the country, approximately 4,69,098 tons per annum. India contributes 60% of the 8.8 million tons of marine plastic waste annually making it one of the top four plastic polluters in the world.  

The lifeline of agriculture in south Asia are rivers and 20 of them carry plastic waste into the ocean that forms approximately two-third of the total contribution of rivers world over. Ganga, that gathers wastes from India and Bangladesh, holds the second position among these them.    

The United Nations has adopted ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ as a theme for this year’s World Environment Day and India is the host. This story came my way and I had no choice but to take a hard look at my blind spot – my pantry and weekly grocery is just plastic, plastic and more plastic. 

What does this mean?

A brief outline of the time taken to decompose plastic. A BBC article from 2017 has some shocking revelations; Styrofoam cushioning in fruits – 50 years; plastic bottle that holds cooking oils and the plastic packaging of dishwashing agents – 450 years. Product specifications and environmental factors will come into play and these figures are an estimate. Source: NOAA/ Wood Hole Sea Grant. 

In the meantime, they can choke marine life and block landfills, adversely impacting the ecosystem and entering the food chain.  

Nobody staged an intervention for my apathetic consumption, but these numbers left me fraught with guilt and anxiety.

Also read: Confessions of plastic straw addict

My Rescue Plan

Clinton Vaz, green activist and founder of V Recycle in Goa tells me that recycling begins even before I go out grocery shopping - "Look into your fridge, bring out food packages and check expiry dates. Uneaten food from your fridge is a primary source of kitchen waste. First, work with everything that's in your fridge." This reminds me to check kitchen cabinets too; there must be masalas, snacks or tea packets nearing their expiry date.

He adds that when one is in a supermarket, one needs to pick brands with less packaging - "There are biscuit packets with layers of plastic. We can consciously avoid buying these."

There's more to be done, such as: 

1. Learn new recipes – I am going to call my mom and ask her to share the recipes of dahi and paneer. Also, baking bread and cookies at home sounds exciting. 

2. Pick alternatives to kitchen cleaning essentials – I found this awesome all-natural dish-washing bar.  Better still, how about this DIY zero waste dishwashing powder that can be made at home. 

As for my pet peeve, using clothe to clean the kitchen, I’ve decided to just deal with it. Get pure cotton, preferably with cute prints and make atleast six kitchen wipes. I can alternate between dirty and dry. Masala stains, be damned! 

3. Buy in bulk – Planning in advance helps and so does buying 5 kilos of rice instead of one kilo every week to generate less plastic waste. The same holds true for flattened rice, daals, flours and other grains. 

4. Opt for paper packaging - I might shock my dry fruit seller by insisting that he packs my purchase of almonds, raisins and cashews in newspaper or brown paper instead of plastic. Better still, I will carry my own paper packaging. An explanation will ensue and my only hope is that he will check his plastic consumption too.  

5. Buy loose and unpacked – It will be a whole new experience to check the texture of each fruit and vegetable before buying. Be gone, styrofoam.

6. Be more aware – “When you go shopping, don’t bring home a problem.” I found this here and instantly loved it.

Also read: This 26-year-old is making plastic straw history

What can I do with my existing kitchen plastic waste?

Clinton says, "Segregate your waste into wet/organic and dry/non-organic. Peels of fruits and veggies, leftover and spoilt food fall in the former category, whereas paper and plastic belong to the latter. In my kitchen, the bin for dry waste is under the kitchen platform, and the one for wet waste is on it. Instead of placing these bins next to each other, we avoid confusion by keeping them away." He jokes that one needs to be slightly obsessed with waste for efficient segregation.  

There are many organisations across cities to collect your plastic waste for recycling: 

1. EcoWise in Delhi will send a Good Samaritam to your home to take away plastic waste. 

2. Mumbaikars, call the Brihanmumbai Mumbai Corporation on their toll free number 1800222357

3. KK Plastic Waste Management in Bengaluru builds roads with plastic waste.

4. Banyan Nation has won many accolades and awards for the pioneering work with recycled plastic. They collect waste from homes in Hyderabad.  

5. Vital Waste in Kolkata is one of the firsts in the city of joy to provide recycling solutions.

6. Clinton's organisation V Recycle gathers plastic from over 8000 homes in South Goa.   

Click here to take a pledge and go plastic-free.  

Image Conceptualised by Vartika Pahuja


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