19 July 2014

What if there’s a law saying you should eat your own trash?

Courtesy ft.lk
Beauty is context bound, this everyone knows.  Depends on angle. Lighting.  Mood. Things like that.  It is made of particular configurations of elements.  Take one contributing factor out and that which was thought to be beautiful would appear plain.  We can of course compensate with memory and still say ‘beautiful’ but that’s a life-trick and self-delusion. 

I am thinking of what the wind does.  What happens in the air. Up in the sky.  Treetops swaying. Music of leaf. The moving poetry of cloud formation. Colours at dawn. Sunset colours. Birds. In formation. Swoop of a Kingfisher.  And a polythene bag, a silisili malla that is.  

I’ve seen, like I am sure most people have, polythene bags blowing about.  It speaks of freedom to me.  Being crazy. Out of control.  ‘Un-equationable’.  Just a flimsy piece of something floating around without definite trajectory, without destination or direction.  It gets caught in a tree, stays there or is pulled away by a gust of wind, lift suddenly, floats down as though it is landing-time and then when you expect the show to be done takes off again.  You don’t want it to stop. 

I can watch kites for hours. I could watch the polythene bag dance for hours too, if that’s how long the show is going to take.  These are windy days.  I could, I suppose, initiate a polythene bag dance. It is so random that if one bag doesn’t take off, I could toss another one with a wish and a whistle.  And another. And another. Until one of them obliges.  Should I, though?

It is one thing to enjoy the spectacle produced by the chance union of polythene bag and wind and quite another to play marriage-broker.  It’s not about the wind, but of the polythene.  The dance is beautiful to watch, but it remains chance configuration of element, one out of a million in which the polythene factor can figure whereas most other elemental soups featuring this ingredient would be indigestible. 

Go to the nearest supermarket and try this out.  There would be a mini pharmacy. Ask for a box of tablets to alleviate aches and pains (yes, I am leaving brand name out here). Chances are the person at the counter will put the box in a tiny polythene bag.  Try it in different shops, with different products of varying sizes and bulk.  Most times, the well-packed article (this is the age of packaging; that’s more than half the cost and an important element of marketing) will be ‘re-packed’ as it were in a polythene bag. Most times if you say you don’t want the bag, the person at the counter will give you a strange look. If you whisper, ‘polythene’, some would nod and smile.  Some would not. If you say one more sentence indicating the harm that polythene does to the environment, even they would understand. 

It is not a question of not having the necessary information or being ignorant.  Habit, I think.  Convenience breeds sloth.  We are lazy.  But if we ask ourselves each time we pick up something from a shop and it is tossed into a polythene bag whether we really need it, 9 times out of 10 the answer would be ‘no’.  We’ve made it too easy for ourselves.  When we do something we really should not do or could very well avoid, we still do it because there’s no pain of punishment, no moral standard or ethical imperative providing guidance.  The polythene bag can be tossed into the garbage.  It quickly becomes ‘someone else’s problem’.  Not really, because these things come around to haunt us or our children. ‘But that’s later, buddy’ is an easily available dismissal isn’t it? 

I know it is not convenient for people to go around with a wicker basket all the time, just in case you need to rush into a shop to buy some biscuits or sugar.  We could do that, however, on occasions when we go shopping.  We know, in such situations, that we will be purchasing and that whatever we buy is more than likely to be thrust into a polythene bag and given to us. Repackaged.  We have a problem in disposing the packaging but we happily add to the problem.  The reason is simple. We can’t dispose the polythene, but can displace both polythene and problem.  Temporarily.  The repercussions will come sooner or later but we can’t really trace it back to error and callousness on our part.  We will not feel guilty. 

Here’s a mechanism that might help us be more responsible. Imagine that there’s a law which says ‘deal with your own trash’. You will immediately wonder what you are going to do with the polythene.  You will have to collect and sell it to a recycling outfit.  You will most definitely ‘reduce’.  You will think about ‘recycling’.  You will ‘re-use’.   

You can’t toss them into the wind with love and prayer really because sooner or later your neighbour is going to get upset.  And if you are a decent human being, you yourself will be upset.  There are other things to wrap with love and send off with prayer. Not polythene. 


*First published in the Daily News, August 5, 2010