Burn, Bury or Recycle: What Would You Do?

Back in the 19th century when man-made polymers, aka plastic, made their grand debut, little was known about the lethal side effects.

Fortunately, a lot has changed in the last century and now people are more informed about plastic’s hazardous effects on health and the environment.

Plastic WastesThe damage to health depends on the type of plastic.

Take your everyday plastic water bottles or plastic bags, they’re made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most commonly used plastics. How it harms health is still unclear, however it contains the toxic element antimony in trace amounts which leaches out over time. Antimony is a suspected cancer causing agent that can accumulate in the body.

Those who reuse plastic drinking bottles, beware!

When it comes to plastic’s harmful effects on the environment, the estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags made worldwide each year, often littered on land or washed out to sea kill millions of wildlife and ocean animals, who mistake plastic for food.

Plastic WastesBurning plastic as a means of disposal also harms the ecosystem. Poisonous chemicals like cancer causing dioxins are released into the air and deposited in the soil and groundwater, eventually entering the human food chain through crops and livestock.

If we don’t incinerate plastic or toss it in a landfill, where it can take up to 1,000 years to break down, then what can we do with the huge amounts of plastic waste generated each year?

Meenambha and Nadasree have found an alternative to burn and bury; they make creative bags and accessories from recycled soft plastic.

plastic-workshopThey weave soft PET plastic into yarn called plarn, which they then use to make beautiful recycled innovations.

Chancellor Amma has often remarked how pleased she is, at this effort to create wealth from waste. “You may think it’s only a small gesture, but through this, the hearts of individuals blossom and then others are inspired to follow. This can lead to significant changes in society.”

Meenamba, who started the plastic weaving project to help preserve the environment, collects plastic bags, chocolate wrappers, plastic twine and laundry-soap packets from the trash, then sanitizes and weaves these items into plarn. She has a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies and sees this as her way to give back to Mother Nature.

plastic-workshopAmrita Sanjeevani, the Amritapuri campus seva association, recently organized a three day workshop, wherein biotechnology, ayurveda, engineering, arts and sciences students learned the art of soft plastic recycling from Meenamba and Nadasree.

Teaching students how to crochet the plarn, the duo answered questions and helped them make mobile phone pouches in multicolored designs.

“We initially wondered why these highly qualified people sort out the waste to make these items,” shared Surbhi and Neha, who attended. “Once we saw the heart wrenching and graphic presentation illustrating the deadly consequences plastic has on wildlife, we understood. One picture depicted the carcass of a bird who met an untimely death; its ribs full of plastic it had eaten.”

plastic-workshop“We all took an oath to begin reducing, reusing and recycling plastics,” the students added.

Participating students finished their projects at the final two-hour session on the third day, each one satisfied with their creations. In upcoming weeks, they will teach these skills to other interested Amrita students.

Certainly their efforts will contribute to change society so desperately needs. With time, their commitment will inspire countless others to also unite in creating this change.

June 9, 2011
School of Ayurveda, Amritapuri

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