Dubai Diaries: Plastic bags have taken over my home
Remember a time when they were hardly used?
I grew up in a world when ‘save the world from single-use plastic’ was neither a slogan nor a sentiment. There were just two ‘Sanji’ (reusable plastic bag) in our house and my grandmother jealously guarded them from other household members. Every time I snooped into the big storeroom to steal a few extra packets of my favourite sugar-sprinkled biscuit, I had seen them hanging from a nail just above the giant wooden container. Decades ago, they looked too insignificant to produce descendants that could clog our oceans or choke a camel to death. We were not allowed to touch it or play with it not because anyone thought they were particularly hazardous. “Children are not allowed to play with important things,” my grand mom would quip. The only time the plastic bags had an outing was when our neighbour would be called in to go for the weekly shopping from our neighbouring grocery shop. Me and my brother would fight for our turn to hold the ‘Sanji’ on our way to the shop. We felt important just holding it. The owner ‘Makkunny’, a kind old man with black, thick glasses would always reward us with one free toffee, an added bonus to our shopping escapades. When we are back home, grand mom would empty the ‘Sanji’ and meticulously hang it back on the nail before tipping the neighbour for his service.
Fast forward to today, and there are more plastic bags in my house than teabags in my kitchen. They snuck out of everywhere – from inside the kitchen cupboard, from atop the refrigerator; They are idling away on the corner stand in the corridor or peeping out from the gap between the microwave and mixer. I can even whip one up from the bathroom, in case someone asks. I keep big plastic bags to store smaller plastic bags. I need them for storing away laundry, packing lunch boxes and giving away old clothes. So, I hoard them. They are like aliens that have invaded and conquered our homes. Now, they seem indispensable. Or are they? My trip to Kerala early this month proved otherwise. My vacation became a crash course on the big difference small lifestyle choices can make.
The South Indian state banned the manufacturing, storage and sale of single-use plastic products effective January 2020. That essentially wiped off the omnipresent plastic bags from shops and households. And it was heartening to see how quickly people adapted to plastic-free life. I saw my dad taking a cloth bag when he went vegetable shopping. My brother scooped a whole watermelon in his hands when he forgot to take a bag with him. The pharmacies or bakers do not dispense them. Even the waste baskets in the kitchen are lined with thick paper bags. I saw a stash of cloth bags in the storeroom. My mom’s proud collection. “Don’t waste them,” mom reminded me as I snatched a few while packing my suitcase. If my grandmother were watching us, she would have definitely thought, “I told you so.”