Shops that can help Chennai people reduce plastic waste generation

Plastic packaging waste can be minimized if consumers carry their own containers and bags, and stores agree to fill them with purchased products, instead of distributing plastic bags. Photo: Peakpx

Tree leaves, bamboo, lotus leaves, palm leaves, rice straw, gourds, hemp twine, coconut husks and crustacean shells are some of the natural materials which were used for packaging in ancient times.

It was common around the turn of the century for all purchased items, whether cooked or prepared, to be wrapped with indigenous materials, to preserve freshness, avoid pollution, protect them from damage, and store leftovers. .

Our parents and grandparents frequented the small premises Kirana stores with steel dabbas to get flour and spices. Fast forward to the current scenario, finding stores where you can buy food and basic household goods without plastic packaging is a big challenge because information about it is scarce.

Difficulty reducing plastic as a consumer

As consumers, we face a deluge of public service announcements asking each of us to be responsible citizens and to avoid harmful products, environmentally harmful materials, and more. The burden of proper waste management rests on our heads. But if we seriously try to follow these dictates, we realize that they are not easy.

The Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG) brand audit (analyzing the plastic waste we generate based on which brands are the biggest contributors to waste) over the past two years has consistently shown that the majority of plastic waste generated in households come from grocery packaging.

plastic waste
Product packaging can provide different types of information about the plastic used, such as whether it is a single-layer or multi-layer plastic and whether it is recyclable. Photo: Laasya Shekhar

Since all food and household products are packaged in plastic, what is the alternative? As a concerned and responsible citizen, how can we avoid this waste?

Read more: CAG Brand Audit: Who is the biggest plastic polluter in the city?

Lack of information on plastic recycling

At first glance, the only option seems to be recycling. But the recycling information is poor on the packaging, so a consumer cannot tell whether the packaging is recyclable or not. In addition, most recycling centers do not accept this packaging; especially the multi-layered type which is common for snacks, masalas etc.

More importantly, recycling requires the addition of fresh plastic (virgin plastic) and therefore does not reduce plastic waste. The only real solution is to reduce the production of plastic waste.

The question that comes to mind, of course, is how can I, as an individual, reduce the plastic waste I generate when everything comes in plastic? The good news is that there are a series of independent stores that sell fruits, vegetables, groceries and other household items without plastic packaging by promoting the concept of bring your own containers and fill them. . But how to find them?

With this in mind, CAG sought to develop a database of businesses selling everyday household cleaning products and groceries without plastic packaging. That’s when the insidious nature of plastic becomes clear – completely plastic-free stores are rare.

These are usually the environmentally conscious stores whose USP is “plastic free”. But the logistics of such a system are quite complex and expensive, which forces them to charge a lot more.

Small local stores are the answer

By exploring this space, we realized that we are forgetting the obvious. Countries like India, where informal systems are still strong, where there are multiple networks that cater to different audiences, where traditions still prevail, have options.

In short, there are many small local shops that sell branded items wrapped in plastic but also offer some products without packaging. Wherever you live in India, if you think of your neighborhood, you will realize that there are such shops that sell jute bags. Shopkeeper will measure according to customer’s requirement. It’s true of course that today they pack your order in a plastic bag because it’s cheap and convenient. However, they won’t flinch if you take your own container! You can try it even at local meat shop or wet idli dough shop.

Read more: Must return to our past and ‘Manjapai’ for a better, plastic-free future: Supriya Sahu, IAS

Database for Chennai and other cities

The database therefore seeks to reinforce this ancient practice of bringing the utensils to the store and refilling them. The database began with an effort to crowdsource information through Google Form. Although there was a lot of interest in the app, the crowdsourcing didn’t go as planned. We only received 17 responses. Undaunted, we reached out to our contacts in different cities in Tamil Nadu and asked them to mobilize volunteers to collect this data.

This gave us a list of 844 stores in five cities – Chennai, Coimbatore, Thiruvarur, Thiruvannamalai and Madurai. Of course, most, if not all, of these stores sell items wrapped in plastic, but we’re focusing on the fact that at least a few items are sold without this packaging. We hope that this database will be useful to our socially and ecologically conscious citizens and to those who want to change their way of life but find this first step a bit difficult!

Consult the database. For stores located in Chennai, click here. If you know of any other stores, share the details through this form and spread the word about this database so it can be useful to more people!

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Bryce K. Locke