Tata-Dhan Academy: PDM


Programme in Development Management

No to Plastic Bags: A Thought for Action

Although saying “no” to plastic bags might seem like a simple task, to achieve a plastic-bag-free environment truly requires social change. It necessitates a change in me, you, and everyone. But all of us today are caught in an era of consumerism, and many aspects of our modern lifestyle is full of plastic. This article is based on the field insights that I gained while collecting data for the preparation of Kanyakumari’s district human development report.

The District Administration of Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu, estimates that the extent of plastic carry bag use in the district is about 10 bags per person per week. Just imagine the number of plastic bags used in Kanyakumari district with its population of 18.5 lakhs!

What happens to these plastic bags after they have served their initial purposes? Most often, they are reused to collect household garbage and then disposed of on the sides of streets or in garbage dumps. Typically, we tie our household waste tightly in the plastic carry bags, but this hinders the process of natural decomposition.

Julie Burtinshaw (2007) in her article on the facts about polyethylene bags has stated that plastic (polyethylene) bags take around 1,000 years to break down; as it breaks down, toxic substances are leached into the soil. Sometimes, in order to quickly clear an area, these plastic bags are burnt, further threatening human beings by releasing dioxin and furon, two carcinogenic agents. Often we find people getting meat and fish in carry bags, entirely unaware that the higher fatty oils of the flesh can dissolve the plastic chemicals, posing further health hazards. Today, as both of the spouses in a family are often employed, the dependency on parcelled foods is increasing. If more people were aware that packing hot food in plastic bags and plastic containers is detrimental to our heath, perhaps we would discourage the use of such packing materials.

Sadly, many animals are also killed because of our use of plastic. Many animals ingest plastic bags mistaking them for food, and as a result suffer a painful death. According to Burtinshaw (2007), approximately one billion animals die every year because of ingesting plastic.

Unfortunately, not everywhere is able to see the same success as Kanyakumari has. The sign in this picture declares this area a “Plastic Free Zone” and explains (in Tamil and in English) why plastics are harmful. Yet, meters away, goats and birds are eating from a pile of garbage that includes a lot of plastic waste. In the background we can see the ocean, where the plastics will eventually get blown or washed into, where it enters the food chain for aquatic animals too.

It seems easy to blame the municipal corporation for the unsanitary and unattractive condition of our own cities without realising that we are to blame: the plastics improperly disposed of by all of us have choked the drainage points. Until we take responsibility for our actions, it would be a challenge for any municipal corporation to properly manage the waste we generate each day.

Can we stop for a minute and think seriously? Should we cause inconvenience and irreparable loss to our earth just for the convenience and comfort of using plastic carry bags? Can we think of saying “no” to plastic bags?

Saying “no” is simple. I have been pondering on this challenge since my last visit to Kanyakumari district when Sri Rajendira Ratnoo (District Collector, Kanyakumari) and Sri Kripanandarajan (Assistant Executive Engineer, Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Nagercoil) briefed us on their plastic-avoidance campaign; their campaign has proven to be successful in making the people of Kanyakumari district to say no to plastic bags, but there is still much more to do to address the problem throughout the country.

R Sangeetha, Faculty


  • Burtinshaw, J. (2007). Say no to plastic bags: The shocking facts about polyethylene bags. Suite 101.com. Retrieved September 2, 2010 from http://bit.ly/9pFhaP

Filed under: Spectrum, Uncategorized,

3 Responses

  1. Ananda Mahto says:

    There was an interesting article related to this in the Nudge blog: http://nudges.org/2010/09/30/how-elastic-is-the-demand-for-shopping-bags/

    Now the Academy students need to use their skills in measuring elasticity too!

  2. Ananda Mahto says:

    While this is not about plastic bags, it is about alternatives to plastic and I thought it was a pretty interesting idea:

  3. Ananda Mahto says:

    Yesterday’s edition of the Hindu had an article featuring Mr Ratnoo and his zero-waste management plan. Read it online here: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/article840155.ece

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