"There is a common impression that eco-friendly products or initiatives are expensive. But, in the long run, the adverse impact of plastic on the environment is far more costly than any product whatsoever"
People say that charity begins at home, but the world outside it as also as important.
Your home is not secluded or separate from the rest of the world, so any positive change should be adopted both at home and outside to reap actual benefits
These were the thoughts running through 32-year-old IAS officer Megh Nidhi Dahal when he implemented a zero plastic policy in his workspace.
An advocate of eco-friendly lifestyle, Megh realised that observing positive habits at home was not enough to make a substantial difference.
Living a life devoid of plastic may look impossible, but it is just a matter of overcoming social conditioning. Replace your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one, or the plastic straw with a bamboo or steel straw. Here’s how you can take a small step towards a big change.
“Every day we spend so much time outside of our homes. It’s important that we continue the good habits beyond our personal space, in the workplace as well. What is the point of keeping your house clean, if the area outside it is overflowing with filth? Similarly, environment-sensitive habits cannot be followed at home alone; they need to become a part of our personal and public life,” he said while speaking with The Better India.
With the idea of Swachh Bharat in his mind, Megh, the sub-divisional officer (SDO) cum district election officer of North Salmara, Assam, launched a drive for zero plastic use in his government office, almost two years ago and the manifestation of the same was recently revealed during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in his area.
However, conducting such a big event plastic-free was a challenge.
“I have had some experience of Panchayat Elections during 2018 November-December, where I noted several obstacles or bottle-necks. A major negative outcome of such events, I noticed was the humongous use of plastic and the waste it left behind,” he says.
Scared that such an outcome would follow this year, the SDO began to plan a way out.
“This year, we had a total of 484 polling stations, which meant that they contained 4000 to 5000 people that needed to be fed. In such scenarios involving a large group of people, the usual practice is to provide food in plastic plates and bowls and dispose of them after use. This is extremely harmful to the environment,” shares Megh.
Hence, he decided to change that.
The transformation started with the replacing of plastic and thermocol plates with reusable melamine plates. A total of 1,200 plates were rented, and the people were served in batches.
A conscious choice of food to minimise plastic use was also done. The next step was to replace plastic glasses with those made of glass and for the first time using corn starch bowls instead of thermocol ones.
“While leaning the plot of land to make arrangements for the event, we found out a pit full of thermocol bowls and plates that were dumped last year after the event, as we did not have an economical alternative for bowls at the time. This year, corn starch bowls came to the rescue. A quick research online claimed that they are completely biodegradable and so we got it on board,” he adds.
This, however, is not an action in isolation. For the past three years in Assam, he has been promoting a no-plastic environment in the government offices by replacing plastic or paper cups with earthen cups.
“During office meetings or everyday work breaks, everyone is supposed to only use reusable plates and earthen pots for coffee or tea. And we continue this practice even during large events, like the recent Yoga Day celebrations where we were able to conduct a zero plastic event, with glass tumblers and stainless steel jars instead of pet bottles,” he shares.
He elaborates that growing up in Sikkim, which has imposed a ban on plastic use years ago, also helped shape his lack of dependence on it.
“Today, plastic is everywhere and has emerged to be something which is seemingly unavoidable. But that’s a myth. I grew up in Lingmoo, a village in South Sikkim, where concepts like waste management are not surprising or new. Most households don’t even need that because the waste generated is so less and largely reusable or biodegradable. So, a path to zero plastic use is to reduce the waste generation at large,” he adds.
Megh further shuts down the impression that eco-friendly products or life choices are a considerable burden on the pocket.
“If you carefully calculate the cost of buying such long-term use products and compare them with the cost of disposable plastic products, you would come to a very close margin. But, this calculation needs to also factor in the long-term damage done by the use of plastic and the expenditure incurred to rid the environment of it. In that case, you will find the use of plastic indeed is an expensive choice!” informs the IAS officer, who continues to make efforts to change the mindset of the people around.
We appreciate such steps by individuals like Megh who not only set a powerful precedent for the entire country but also reiterate the fact that indeed change can begin from a single point and grow into a phenomenon!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)