Single cause movements have a shortcoming – the likelihood of becoming extreme. In the process, activists become ‘believers’ as opposed to ‘adversaries’. It becomes a war in which the other is to be overcome, by hook or by crook. This is witnessed often in politics and religion, but just as much in social causes. Climate change concerns and environmentalism, for instance, have begotten their share of fanatics who treat anybody not toeing their line as ‘apostates’. Their protests can sometimes descend to downright criminality and, often, obstruct even the reasonable options required for development. (Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked the latest climate change icon, Greta Thunberg, why people in developing countries cannot enjoy the same quality of life as those in Sweden – a difficult question for the sixteen year old to answer.) This is why, when a nationwide movement is started in India on discarding single-use plastic, there is need not to do so in fanatical fashion. The usefulness of such packaging in the lives of the poor, in particular, cannot be overlooked. Ideally, the best solution is to use material that has the advantages of plastic, but is bio- degradable. News comes in regularly about the development of such materials but, for some reason, these have not been put to use as extensively as needed. Also, the companies that use plastic packaging must begin introducing alternative solutions. This is because single use plastic has in many ways revolutionised delivery of products at the grassroots level, particularly in India. One can give many examples of how banning such packaging will inconvenience the poor and put many products out of their reach. It may be recalled how biscuit companies celebrated finding an entirely new market by selling Rs 5 packets, which the poor could afford. Single use pouches of shampoos, soap and other items of daily use which the poorest can afford make it possible for migrant labourers, particularly women, to stay clean without having to spend large amounts, or lug around a whole lot of belongings as they move from site to site. Oil for cooking is brought home daily in a polythene bag. So, instead of asking this section of society to face so much disruption in their lives, it would be better if the other aspects of the movement are introduced first. Let the better off eliminate plastic from their lives entirely. Let segregation, reuse and recycling become habit till such time alternatives emerge. It should be more a social movement than a mandatory one.
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