Paper and plastic - kicking the habit

Over at Life Less Plastic, Jeanne Haegele writes: And I still buy milk (in a glass container) and meat (wrapped in paper at the deli), and use my own cloth produce and grocery bags. In my three-decade-plus lifetime I have seen my parents do the same. Why, only about 15 years ago I have bought milk in a steel container. And I have shopped veggies in a little cloth bag emblazoned with a kitschy reproduction of a Mughal painting. As for meat and chicken and fish, we got them wrapped in sheets of newspaper - it was morbidly comic to see the 'killed' and 'dead' so ubiquitous in our headlines clinging to the gills of mackerel or slapped to mutton ribs. Somewhere along the way, plastic took over. First, as a fad. Then, as an excuse for convenience. Now, it has become a scourge. Haegele's article in the Dallas Morning Post was honest in that it dissected the quandary that some of our more discerning shoppers face every day - to plastic or not to plastic. Offered no choice by retailers, most go with the first option (no choice = no option, innit?). Ergo, along with the veggies and cartons and the ephemeral guilt come strips of shrink and bubble wrap, and plastic bags of varying micron thickness. Since we don't eat them, where do they go? Into the trash can. And then? Does anyone care? It's not about plastic alone. At Infosys, where I worked until August, green consciousness is afoot among the employees. How deep this runs is debatable but even a move from ecological nihilism to environmental lip-service is undoubtedly a start and deserves a round of applause, however feeble. At Infosys, plastic bags are being phased out - the bookshop and supermarket at the Bangalore campus have been wrapping their ware in brown paper bags for more than a year. Noble. But what of paper itself? An interesting opinion piece by Stanley Fish ran counter to Haegele's. Of course, the Fish eye-view comes across as anti-environmentalist posturing of shaky credibility - he takes on the greens but it's clear soon enough that he is a renegade green himself. What stayed with me was the reference to toilet paper and that oh-so-familiar name among all ye who paper thy behinds. Kimberley-Clark. If you live in a Turd World Country (like moi) and have trouble placing that name, allow me to help. Think of the last time you used a public loo at a hip software company or at any of our new temples of modern India - the newfangled international airports, eco-sensitive hotels, liver-protecting pubs, etc. The brand name that you smeared your poo with was Kimberley-Clark. Toilet paper, or just paper in the form of napkins and face tissue, has become an addiction with us children of the night-soil. And it is the sole reason why I choose to patronise the pain-in-the-butt salesman touting cloth handkerchiefs at Shivaji Nagar bus stand over the waif at traffic signals selling boxes of paper napkins for your car. But what's galling is the sight of people using whole wads of paper to wipe their faces - it leads me to ponder the unsanitary question: How many reams of Kimberley-Clark does it takes to finish up after they take a dump? Do they know that they are wiping their arses with strips of hoary boreal forest? And just one generation ago, these very people barely had water to use after a trip to the john (which was more likely than not of the clean and hygienic Indian-style sit-down-and-go variety). You didn't know?! There's evidence here and here and here. Back to plastic. The only option we are left with, if not for Alka Zadgaonkar's ingenious idea, is to make it edible. As for paper, why wipe when you can wash? It's time the rest of the world tore a leaf out of the toilet roll of the Turd World.