A Little Less Plastic
Will Go a Long, Long Way
Usually when I am on a holiday, I let go of all the rules that I follow during other times. I don’t bother about my diet or when I eat or when I sleep or if I exercise. My life becomes one of pure pleasure going from one minute to the next. Of course, it took a while before realization hit me – that the biggest casualty of a completely careless attitude is often the environment. So last year, on my annual big holiday to Kodaikanal I decided to make sure that I would be careful in just three things – reduce the number of plastic water bottles, the number of empty packets of chips and other snacks, and the disposable shampoo and soap sachets I threw in the dustbin.
Gouthami, CEO and co-founder,
Travel Another India
The last was the easiest. While packing I made sure I was carrying a full bottle of shampoo and liquid soap, tightened the lids and removed that extra pair of sandals to offset the weight. And I was really glad to have done this when I walked around and saw the menace that these small sachets are to the environment. At every stream and waterfall, the place is strewn with these. Yes, they are a boon to the traveller – but how do you collect these tiny packets and recycle them? I don’t think anyone has an answer for that. So if possible, avoid these tiny sachets and carry a full bottle of shampoo with you.
Drinking water and snacks proved more challenging. I packed an empty water bottle and resolved to remember to fill it before stepping out of the hotel. I even had a beautifully crocheted water bottle carrier from Auroville (made of cloth) to carry the bottle separately from my backpack.
Talking to the Devil Inside-Out
As I trudged around Kodai, I cursed this needless weight but stuck to it right through. Since it was the only thing I was focussed on during the entire holiday, I managed to carry it every single day. My resolve was almost broken when I went into a restaurant for lunch and the waiter propped a bottle of mineral water on my table and started to open it without asking me. My shout startled him and the others in the vicinity and I had to hurriedly apologize to him and explain how I was trying to stop using plastic. He gave me a dirty look before plonking that bottle on another table. I tried to be nonchalant, but I really felt embarrassed at having created a scene.
Did I really have to be that rigid? Why couldn’t I give in once in a way? And pat came the response from the devil in my head, ‘Because your life is so far from green that if you start to compromise on the few positive steps you do take, you would be the opposite of green – like George Bush or something!’
The real test came on the way back at the end of the holiday. I was in Madurai to visit the temple and it was a blazing June day. After the ‘cold’ of Kodai, Madurai was unbearable. My water bottle emptied in no time. And I was really thirsty. I looked at the shops outside the temple – most were closed as it was late afternoon. The only ‘cool drinks’ shop open had rows and rows of plastic bottles. As I stood in front of the shop trying to decide what to do, I spotted the glass bottles inside the fridge. No water but soft drinks aplenty. Since it was the lesser of the two evils, I gave in.
It is not easy in India to be relaxed about drinking water. You have to be very careful about where you refill your bottle from if you don’t want to end up sick. And sometimes while travelling it is just too much hassle. However, I now make the effort during each trip to source clean drinking water. If I am not sure of the quality of the water, then I go ahead with the bottled water. Given the high temperatures in India, I make sure I drink plenty of water as well.
Snacking was more difficult to handle. Whatever you buy – chips, biscuits, fried stuff – comes in laminated foil paper, with some of them having an extra layer of plastic inside. When you are walking off on a path on a hillside, you are unlikely to find a tea shop selling fresh snacks. Yet, that hike is exactly what will make you hungry for snacks. I finally found a bakery in Kodaikanal which packed both biscuits and fried snacks in paper bags. I had them make small 100 grams packets and then I put the entire bunch in a plastic polybag that I was carrying with me.
Going All the Way
So, that brings me to the whole issue of compromise. Ideally I should go back to living like my great-grandparents – the ones with the land. However, there are things in today’s world which were not there then and which are enjoyable. Bottled soft drinks are one of these. They taste good and I do like to have a drink occasionally (as mixers too). Would I have them every day? Not a chance! The politically correct reason is that they often draw upon scarce groundwater resources and don’t do enough to replenish those resources. However, the real and politically incorrect reason is that it would go straight to my substantial waist. So, while soft drinks are not good for the planet, I do occasionally indulge myself.
Being green took a conscious effort on that holiday. However, if each of us makes that effort, we can avoid the huge garbage dumps that can be seen behind every hill station—or for that matter, next to any tourist hotspot. I have had guests report back to me of hotels that keep two dustbins for plastic and green waste and then throw it all behind their property together. Managing waste involves a cost. It means that the hotel now has to take the next step of composting the green waste and taking the plastics and other non-biodegradables to the nearest facility to recycle. For a hill station like Kodaikanal, it would be the nearest big town of Dindigul or Madurai. Either way there is the cost of transport that would ultimately get passed back to you, the customer. Or the hotel could take the shortcut and dump it behind their hotel.
What you can do is to first reduce the amount of waste generated and then carry back as much of it as possible, especially if you are driving yourself. Do write back with your suggestions for what else you could do to ensure that the earth is left smiling after your holiday.
Travel Another India works with rural communities to set up accessible destinations that make you, your hosts and the earth happy.