Look who’s talking about saving the environment!

Here are some facts about the ecological impact of modern lifestyles that were pioneered by the Western countries and ‘exported’ to the developing ones:

  • Developed nations, with 20 percent of the world’s population, consume 87 percent of the world’s printing and writing papers. The By contrast, the developing nations only use only 18 kilograms of paper a year on average. In India, the figure is 4 kilos, while in 20 countries in Africa, it’s less than 1 kilo.  Producing one ton of paper requires 2-3 tons of trees. This does not include the paper used for use-and-throw cups and plates and toilet paper.  The last mentioned forms about 10% of the paper clogging the landfills worldwide!
  • An estimated 1 billion trees a year are required to produce disposable diapers worldwide. Environmentalists are exhorting people to go back to using cloth diapers.
  • According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s study in 2001 on plastic bag consumption — somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Another study by the U.N in 2006 stated that 10% of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean.

Today having woken up to the havoc they have created and exported to the developing countries they are screaming themselves hoarse about degrading of the environment and want to go back to the practices of olden days, little realising that they were instrumental in changing the eco-friendly ways of the developing countries.

Indian and many Eastern cultures have always been environment friendly. In India, the festivals, customs and rituals have laid stress on these too. The use of clay pots for cooking and leaf plates for eating on auspicious occasions, which are then destroyed and left to blend with the earth, is one such custom. In fact, the use of plastic, paper and china is considered as being impure for such occasions. So also, feeding of cattle and dogs, which is considered good; this took care of the leftover food, and so on.

How was it before the following came into our lives?

Plastic:

Do you remember the time when we used to carry a shopping bag to the market? If you forgot to carry one, you had to rush back home and take one, or if you remembered it too late you had to buy one of those jute or cloth bags from the market!

An entire cottage industry had sprung up in the 1960s when plastic ‘wires’ as they were called, of various thickness and breadth were woven into shopping bags and purses. These were versatile and used for anything from vegetable shopping to carrying books to school.

Then came the plastic carry bags. Initially only the bigger shops and establishments used them and so they were recycled by the customers. Soon there was a glut and our waterways and other spaces got choked with the infernal stuff that didn’t degrade at all! Today thankfully many states have banned plastic bags and there are awareness campaigns to make people recycle stuff – in short, return to our roots.

So after a good half century later, we find stylish jute and cloth bags even in the hands of society matrons and many shops have started selling cloth bags to those shoppers who have come without one, much like during my childhood days!

Paper/plastic plates and cups:

Though today these are used widely for the sake of convenience and economy, it was not always so. Traditionally in India, food was served on leaf plates. Called ‘patravali’ or ‘pattal’ , they were complemented by leaf cups called ‘dona’. Even today, in poojas and other auspicious occasions food is served in these leaf plates. Leaves from trees like sal and siali are joined together with thin slivers of wood or stitched. It is a cottage industry in many states. Areca leaf plates and cups are the rage in many southern states and are not only eco-friendly but also aesthetically appealing, giving paper and plastic a run for their money!

In south India we still have the custom of serving food on plantain leaves. Apparently there is a health plus in this custom as the oils present in the leaves are released when hot food is served on them. Truly the most eco-friendly custom of use-and-throw! These leaves are eaten by cattle along with any food left in them. What a neat way of waste disposal!

Alas, true to our habit of keeping the rituals and throwing out the reason, today we have plastic and paper banana leaves being sold for auspicious occasions!!

Have you guys drunk tea in kullads? They are the ultimate in use-and-throw cups! After a lot of noise by the then Railway Minister Laloo, they never replaced the plastic and Styrofoam cups in the railway catering services and now we have mountains of them all over the place!

Food Recycling:

This does not merely mean dressing up leftover food and serving it as a new dish. In our culture, recycling has almost a religious connotation. The custom of feeding vegetable waste to cattle and leftovers and stale food to stray dogs still prevails in villages and small towns. What a useful and hygienic way of disposing of garbage that would otherwise rot, while giving the satisfaction of doing a good deed! Today however, with urban and flat-living, huge quantities of food are wasted and disposed off in the garbage.

Diapers:

It is only the present generation of parents that is so widely using disposable diapers. Otherwise it has always been cloth diapers, soft, absorbent and recyclable!

Today we have diaper ads that are targeted at the rural population, while in the west there is a movement to go back to cloth diapers! It will be a sad day when the villager takes to this practice, as it will surely compromise the hygiene factor. Diapers are very expensive in India and the villagers clearly can’t afford many changes, leaving the child to fester in its own pee and poo!

Soiled diapers that are disposed off with household garbage can be the cause of many diseases when thrown in landfills, in addition to taking a very long time to degrade.

Changing lifestyles have made the use of diapers a necessity today because  working couples have no time to wash dirty cloth diapers. But I know of young parents who still use the old fashioned cloth diapers at least during the waking hours of the child, and thus cut down on disposable ones.

Immersion of idols in water bodies:

Actually, Mohan’s post on the Green Ganesha set this post off. As he has rightly pointed out, we have large quantities of toxic waste being dumped in our waterways by way of immersing huge idols of Ganpati (and soon Durga too) after the festivals. Why not make simple dye-based clay idols that will blend with the earth from which they are made? Why are we again distorting a religious ritual, forgetting its true significance and twisting it to pander to cheap publicity and commercial gimmicks?

Many of the customs and habits of old can’t be adopted today due to practical reasons, but there are many that we can. Here are a few:

  • Use cloth or bags made of natural fibres for shopping and other purposes.
  • Stop or at least reduce the use of paper and other use-and-throw utensils and cups and shift to china or clay cups.
  • Use cloth nappies for babies as much as we possibly can.
  • Stop buying idols made of non-bio-degradable materials and toxic paints and go for greener options.
  • Use reusable cups and plates or eco-friendly alternatives like leaves.
  • We can opt for the no-paper bills, which will save millions of trees.

If we just adopted even some of our traditional eco-friendly methods within the constraints imposed by the urban lifestyles — which are not only too fast but also hampered by time crunch — we could contribute a lot to the prevention of environment degradation.

The easiest ones we all can do  is to say NO to plastic carry bags and wasting of paper. Why don’t we start today?

51 comments

  1. What a nice and meaningful post, on world environment day.
    Now many people are avoiding the use of plastic, but still plastic, and thermacol is the biggest problem which is destroying the environment. I always keep 2 or 3 folding shopping bags in my hand bag, avoid taking plastic bags from shops.
    Awareness can change many things, if people are ready to change themself.

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    1. If people change themselves the world will change indeed! Shopping bags constitute the biggest bulk of trash and they don’t decompose either. I too have been carrying my own shopping bags for years now. My bit for the environment 🙂

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  2. Zephyr, such a relevant post and close to my heart. In my apartment, we have a group of women, who have taken an oath not to get plastic bags to the house for as much time as possible.As a nation, we have really gone from being eco-friendly to non-eco friendly and now we are trying to go back again. In fact recently, I read about a village development, where low-cost sanitary disposables were marketed to village women.. I didnt really know if it was a good news or bad..considering that this forms a bulk of the landfill waste which can only be incinerated. We humans have brains, and while we lauded ourselves on our short-term achievements, I wonder whether the earth was actually looking at us, and laughing at our foolishness. We might or might not have an ice age to decimate us, but we don’t really need to wait for external forces. We have ourselves.

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    1. As long as we continue to mock our traditions and customs, this will continue, Asha. Unfortunately things don’t seem to be changing any in any sphere, not just following eco=friendly customs. Out pattals, donas, clay pots and cups….all are making a comeback as designer stuff at exorbitant costs. Mother Nature always has the last laugh…as she did in Uttarakhand two years back and in Nepal this year. Your efforts to minimise plastic is commendable, as even the smallest action bears some result. The sanitary napkin project is needed as the alternative is neither hygienic nor good. But we can make up by reducing toilet paper and tissues which we use in such humongous quantities. Whatever happened to good old water with its cleansing and healing qualities? You are so right! We are our own worst enemies!

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  3. Agree, agree, agree on everything you say here, Zephyr! We have indeed imported all these so-called ‘modern’ practices and created an environmental disaster for ourselves and future generations. The good thing is that some people are now waking up and going back to some of the traditional practices. And thanks to our PM, who keeps on reminding every chance he gets that India can teach the world some big lessons on how to take care of environment and Mother Earth. I hope more Indians realise the truth of this statement and discover the treasure trove of ideas from our own traditions and practices to become more environment-friendly. Thanks for writing this excellent post!

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    1. But Beloo, the waking up has come from the west, after they have tried, created monumental wastes and then realised their folly and now they are sitting on the heads of the developing nations and trying to push their green initiatives! As for taking the lessons of our PM, I can only smile. Endorsement about his vision and knowledge also has to come to us from the west. Sigh….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I found this post by typing “who’s saving the environment” it was the sixth one from the top. After briefly looking, it appears that no one is saving the environment, well no company that I could find anyways. It appears that when it is made a priority it’s only superficially and to boost brand image. I’d like to see an autonomous and non-profit company emerge who is solely about saving the environment and wildly successful. That will be the day.

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  5. Good one . Nicely supported with facts and figures. At least our simple effort of carrying our own bag can relieve our earth from thousand of tons of plastic waste annually. I am happy to share that i have started this for the last 6 months..Let all of us join this small but significant step ???

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    1. Thank you Mohan. Little gestures like this often go a long way in helping a big cause. But enforcement of laws strictly is what will make a difference. The Himachal government has banned plastic in the state and you will find this being enforced in Shimla. It is inconvenient till you get used to it.

      btw. I was going to delete the comment as spam since it has come after so many months and it is usually spam comments that come this late. I am curious to know how you got to the post?

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      1. Thanks Zephyr.I found the post opened and responded. I got your blog add from Indiblogger.

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  6. […] no plastic carry bags, we used to take one of those bags made of plastic wires  or a cloth bag to bring home all these. Sometimes the bananas we got would […]

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  7. i live in a city that prides itself on being environmentally conscious..the only city that voted in a ‘Green MP’ making history..and know what, zephyr, as a member of the British Commonwealth, I had a vote too..and I voted green…my only contribution..coz I havent yet found riches enough to reduce my carbon credits..I do recycle conscientiously, though…

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    1. It is high time the Western civilizations pulled their weight in this department and clean not just their own backyards, having started the whole thing in the first place! Great to know you got to vote for a Green MP. would he take into consideration other commonwealth countries, considering he got elected with the help of their votes too? 😀

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  8. Good and timely post Zephyr – It is sad how some of our old traditions which were designed to be eco friendly have been replaced by disastrous new ones. Time to go back to basics!

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    1. Welcome here Sowmya. Our traditions and customs are so rich and designed taking into consideration everything around us, the environment, other living beings and waterways. If only we understood them and adapted them to suit present lifestyles the world would be a better place to live in.

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  9. Well researched article Zephyr. Man finds a short cut ideas to make life easier but in most long term it turns disastrous for mankind…

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    1. You have said it: they are indeed short-cut ideas that have brought humanity to this pass. And now we want to go back to our roots to undo the damage.

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  10. well researched article!a degradable polythene which is made( by addition of cellulose)has still to come for common people use is the best bet .

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    1. Where is the hope for that, Arpana? We are busy recycling substandard carry bags and spreading more toxic waste in the atmosphere too, in addition to choking landfills and water bodies.

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  11. Hi Zephyr,

    Thanks for sharing your hard researched post. The stats are really wonderful. Each day, a Foundation or Trust is set up in US promising great words on Environmental Protection. But are they really worth listening ?????

    Your post has probably keep mouths shut. So good going dude !!!
    ————————————————————–
    I like people going on with social awareness. So I’m luving u too !! 🙂

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    1. Weclome to my blog Gourav! Thanks for the comment. Starting new NGOs and Foundations are a means of being in the limelight and getting something more on the side, in most cases. There is more of noise than action. that’s why educated individuals should take their own initiatives and hope it burgeons into a mass movement.

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  12. Hi Zephyr,
    You are really working on great subject .Thank God people like you exist in this world.I like Mohan’s green ganesha and you are doing equally great job.
    http://pratibhathetalent.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thanks Pratibha! Mohan’s post had actually set me off on this. It should have been more exhaustive, but since it is a very vast subject, many posts can be written on it.

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  13. Statistics state that America is buying lesser food after the recession started. But are they eating less?…Oh no!…they are now slashing away the leftovers in the fridge for the next day!…and this shows up in the stats!
    Now you can imaging how much they were wasting!

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    1. LOL Wasting of food is something that makes me see red! again, the Americans are the ones who started the ‘exxtra large’ servings which invariably get wasted!

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  14. Excellent post!!! Superb job indeed! I’m pretty impressed. I agree outright with all that you have so rightly contended. Kudos to you! Keep going the enlightened way… Way to go! Cheers!

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    1. Whoa, Shrinath! That was truly effusive encouragement! Glad you liked it!

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  15. I had read this post before but could not comment at that time. Very thoughtful and worth sharing.

    When my kids were small I taught them the habit of switching off lights and fans whenever they left the room. Later, Going for jog in the park instead of using the treadmill to save electricity , using cloth bags, conserving paper by using the leaflets backside for making lists and writing notes, I miss the kullhad and think it was the best way to have tea. Use of banana leaves and pattal is something which surely should be encouraged.

    I myself use the water that remains after washing veggies and dals etc for my plants.

    water saving is one of the things we all do and promote too.

    So much has been written about the plastic bags but hardly anyone cares these days. I have seen stray dogs eating food wrapped in such bags.

    I am glad bloggers like you are raising their voice on this issue
    Very nice post Zephyr

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    1. The point it, someone has to tell the ‘watchdog’ of the environment that they should first shape up and then talk to the other and notably poorer developing countries. All those who are aware do our bit for the environment and plastic bags are the biggest offenders. At least we can start there, can;t we? Many large and small shops in Delhi already have stopped giving their wares in plastic bags, but peripheral towns like Gurgaon and Noida are not following suit. so?

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  16. By Jove,you have done your homework and statistically ripped apart developed nation’s hypocrisy.Saving the environment is one of the key issues we need to address as a nation,because it is a problem as pressing as poverty.But you know what makes me hopeful,it is that people today are so much more aware ;so much more concerned and doing their bit to protect the planet.I am an optimist I confess 🙂

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    1. Oh WJ, isn’t hope what makes the world go round? 🙂 The younger generation wants convenience but is also aware. So I am hopeful too that they would begin to look for that in our own culture and ancient wisdom and apply them too! I am an optimist too — especially with respect to the younger gen!

      Btw, I am unable to post comments on your blog these days. Is there something the matter?

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      1. Oh so that is the reason for your absence of comments,well i continue to receive other comments just as fine ,but still i will give it a look. I cannot afford to loose my favorite visitor 🙂

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  17. The west’s(especially United States) fake environmental concern is laughable and their tendency to pass on the buck to the poorer nations is nothing new.
    Isn’t it why the Copenhagen talks failed!

    Mothers prefer diapers over nappies and the misleading ads don’t help either. I personally prefer having bhog on areca leaf plates and tea in khullars. Styrofoam cups are carcinogenic, but how many of us care?

    A very well researched post, that raised some valid questions!

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    1. That’s what bugged me enough to write this post, which is by no means a thoroughly researched one, but enough to make the point. Why can’t we go back to our own eco-friendly use-and-throw culture?

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      1. I couldn’t agree more, something clearly needs to be done. Someone needs to step up to the plate and start an environmental movement that hits home. I will hate to think of future generations quality of life should the course mankind is on not be averted and reassessed in a way that makes good environmental sense. We need to all vote for government that is willing to do what it takes to avoid the grim future where headed towards, no matter the inconvenience or distastefulness. For example Oregon recently shot down a bill to make plastic bags illegal. WHY??? Sure it would be a pain to get used to but it’s long term benefits significantly outweight that small inconvenience. Looks like man kind just might have to learn the hard way :/

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        1. I was just going to ask how you came here when I saw your second comment 🙂 Yes, no one is saving the environment because it is commercially not viable to do it. In Delhi plastic bags are supposedly banned, but you can get them in the market from the vegetable and fruit sellers and the roadside hawkers of various wares. Like I said in the post, we were doing just fine before these infernal things were invented. And in developing countries where the disposal of plastic is a big issue, it is even worse. How many cattle and smaller animals choke on bits of plastic thrown with foodstuff in the garbage dumps! We are now waging wars for crude. but what will we do when we run out of potable water or trees? Whom will we wage war against, then?

          Today we are even corrupting native populations to adopt ‘modern’ things abandoning their environment friendly customs. My fear is that mankind might be wiped out before learning its lesson.

          Hey, are you into environmental studies or just randomly looked it up and reached here?

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  18. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Vineet Rajan and Sabera P., Vineet Rajan. Vineet Rajan said: Look who’s talking! http://goo.gl/fb/dJXE7 […]

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  19. I totally agree with you regarding the use of environmentally friendly materials. However, I think that just by the symbolic use of cloth bags and biodegradable products may not be enough to save whatever is left of the environment. The malaise does not end with consumers alone. There are companies which reduce 2% of the bottle cap size of the whole plastic bottle and claim they are ecologically active..but what about the rest of the bottle or the waste that is generated? There are plastic cups in most offices for drinking water and employees do not like it if they are asked to get their own bottles. While we switch off the lights at our homes, the office illumination is forever left on, and there are lights that are indeed more than necessary. There are neon lights that are lit up till wee hours of morning which are a waste of electricity. While we save water in running taps, there are leaky pipes that need to be fixed. I mean, we might take fledgeling steps in curbing the use of our resources, which is totally positive, but its high time that the larger consumers are forced to do more than the symbolic.

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    1. Exactly Richa. But as consumers if we even began doing little bits it will help, won’t it? And the focus is on the industrialised countries which have wreaked most of the havoc upon the planet and crying foul now that the horse is out of the stable. As far as India and other developing countries are concerned, plastic waste is the most dangerous one. I have seen cattle trying to eat garbage from polythene bags and end up swallowing them. hundreds and thousands of stray animals meet a ghastly death because of consuming these plastic killers. Just imagine the reduction in the number of these bags if everyone sopped using them!

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  20. In a recent mail I read about the disposable paper cups largely used in canteens and offices for drinking water or tea. It was mentioned that the bottom is pasted with a layer of wax which is too dangerous to use.

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    1. That’s even more cause for concern. The best would be the kullads, which impart an earthy flavour to the tea, isn’t it?

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  21. can’t imagine bhogs without the kullads and patravalis. over here going green is encouraged at every juncture. The plastic bag one gets at the superstores are apparently biodegradable. Garden waste is collected separately (in case one doesn’t go for compost). Recycling is widespread. Did make me realise the things we didn’t do back in India.
    Having said that the west still needs to plug a few holes. Paper towels, whatever be their purpose are consumed in humongous amount everyday. A cut back on that alone will help a great deal.

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    1. Our rituals and functions all demand only fresh bio-degradable stuff, don’t they? in temples in the south, they give prashad in leaves. And oh, I had forgotten about the paper towels and toilet paper! Added a line in the post about that too! Thanks for reminding!

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      1. I forgot to mention. At my workplace, going green is encouraged heavily. E.g. No printing if you can help it, reducing carbon footprint by working from home if you can, using dedicated mugs instead of paper or plastic ones (even though they are provided). And this is a strong trend across all workplaces I know of over here.

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  22. I use cloth diapers on babystar. She is a happy baby…no rashes..no smell..no pollution…my little part in the whole mess.

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    1. That’s great. So you also come under the ‘young parents I know who do this. It is always back to the future for best results, isn’t it?

      Do you know of this new theory being propagated that says that the child gets ‘traumatised’ if toilet trained earlier than 18 months to 2 years? We surely should have entire generations of traumatised young and old adults, if that were true! 😀

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  23. even if all those who read this start changing and exhorting their friends to do so, will be a step forward to a better tomorrow..
    wonderful post!

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    1. Exactly. Every little effort counts. Like they say, ‘boond boond se nadi bane….’

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  24. very well researched zephyr! Yes, we need to know the limit to an extent we can mess with our environment. After the threshold it becomes an irreversible process, hence prevention is better than cure! I carry good old styled cloth bags for regular household purchases. Simple things can bring in a lot of change!

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    1. How thoughtful of you to carry a cloth bag! I have always done that, even at the height of plastic bags, because the flimsy straps of those carry bags dig into my palms! Every drop counts. Let us all join together in this fight for our environment!

      Like

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