‘Your delivery is scheduled to arrive today’, says the message on your phone. There was a time when you would have been excited after reading this but now it doesn’t matter. Ting Tong, the doorbell rings. The delivery guy brings your order in a white plastic bubble wrap envelope. Congratulations you have a new toy and a complimentary I-will-still-stick-around-way-beyond your-extinction envelope that lands straight in your dustbin, without even a goodbye.
Packaging products, right from bubble wrap envelopes to water bottles, form a major part of the solid waste – their quantity was estimated to be about 77.9 million tons in 2015. (29.7 percent of total generation)
But hey how is this your fault? It’s just the way it is, right?
The envelope is trashed and what you hold in your hand is probably a book. You can tell even if it’s wrapped in an average looking gift paper. It’s wrapped because it’s supposed to be your birthday gift. You tear it apart and find the exact book you had asked your friends to get. Surprise. Surprise. A temporary smile lands on your face. The book lands on your shelf. Gift paper lands in the dustbin. Again without even a goodbye.
Rude, a tree died for this bro!
Why do gifts even need to be wrapped? I wonder. Although the practice of gift wrapping can be traced back to 2nd century BCE China, modern gift wrapping practice only became mainstream after it was popularized by Hallmark back in 1917. It was an accident. They ran out of traditional tissues so they started selling colourful envelope liners from France instead. It was a hit. America loved it and eventually, it made it to the rest of the world too.
The psychology behind Gift wrapping says that it influences the recipient to rate their gifts more positively. The short-lived suspense of not knowing what exactly is your gift somehow seems to excite you. As you unwrap the gift, you wonder what’s inside. This curiosity feels good. But is it really worth it? Just a few seconds of our unnecessary pleasure sits on the planet for hundreds of years, asphyxiating anything that comes in its way.
Sure avoiding plastic packaging and switching to paper may be a good start but paper isn’t as environment-friendly as you would believe it to be. The problem begins where the paper begins. Wood. Deforestation. Loss of habitat. Loss of biodiversity. Soil erosion. Reduced water quality. And this is just the beginning.
We move on to manufacturing. Here come the chemicals, which seep into our water bodies through a poor waste disposal system. Chlorine, mercury, halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, caustic soda – each of these chemicals used in making paper, damages the environment differently. And next is the disposal. Tonnes of paper make it to landfills every day and when they decompose, they release methane – one of the major greenhouse gases.
Paper manufacturing is also water and energy-intensive process. In India, the national norm of water consumption per tonne of paper is 200-250 kiloliter in large paper sectors.
That’s equivalent to a lifetime water supply for a family of four!
As water shortage becomes more commonplace, it’s going to get harder to manufacture paper. A technology upgrade is necessary. It is possible to make the paper-making process more eco-friendly. The technology is available to reduce water consumption, at least to half. The question is – how important is it? And do the decision-makers realise that?
So we can’t use plastic. We can’t use paper. What can we use?
The Three Rs.
Our consumption is a major burden on the planet. And our demand is only growing. We don’t have any other habitable planet known to us. Even if we did, we have no technology to shift 7.7 billion people to a faraway planet. We talk about our end but our civilization has actually only begun. There are so many things that we haven’t discovered yet. There are so many things that we haven’t even seen. And we are already losing our only home?
We must act. We must act now. Big or small doesn’t matter. If it takes a gift wrapper, gift wrapper it is. Ask yourself – do you need it? Do you really need it? If the answer is no then you know what to do.
Okay, so if we are not buying new stuff, what are we replacing it with?
Stuff we already have!
Welcome to the second R –
Newspapers. Brown bags. Shoe boxes. Pieces of clothes, our options are endless. Are you willing to be creative enough to use them? The Internet can always help.
Our last R brings us to –
Fact is that we are drowning in our own trash. Fact is also that we are importing more and more waste paper from western countries. Special thanks to China for closing its gate, now all the western garbage comes our way.
We are not in any shortage of waste paper. India produces 62 million tonnes of waste every year. Paper makes a huge part of it. What we are in shortage of is an efficient collection and segregation system. We need better waste management and recycling facilities.
Although paper is one of the easiest things to recycle, there is a limit to that too. After repeated processing, the fibres become too short to produce new paper. In that case, virgin fibres have to be used. Ultimately, even with recycling, there’s no escaping cutting more trees, polluting our rivers and trashing our land.
Unless, and until, we start caring.
The gifting season is almost gone, gift wrappers have already been used, but when it returns which it inevitably will, I hope you choose to care.
No plastic gift wrappers and reduce, reuse, recycle as much as you can. And when it comes to online shopping, avoid it until sustainable packaging becomes their priority. They may not hear your voice alone, but they can’t avoid us if we all start speaking. Our planet, our only home, is worth it.