Here’s what you pick when you ditch plastic

Why is everyone talking about a plastic-free life?

‘Plastic is everywhere’ is one statement that may be said without any discussion or argument.  Plastic’s versatility and affordability has found its way into every part of our lives. It is also no secret that its widespread use has resulted in significant pollution. Plastic comes from fossil fuels and is produced through energy-intensive procedures which depletes resources and emits greenhouse gasses. It takes hundreds of years for plastic garbage to disintegrate, and a significant amount of it ends up in landfills or as litter in ecosystems like seas and waterways.This pollution harms wildlife, damages ecosystems, and disrupts the natural balance of our planet.

As someone who has started an environment-centric organization and witnessed the many benefits of trees firsthand, I believe that planting trees is one of the pillars in tackling the environmental problems we are facing today. Eco-friendly or sustainable products not only have a lower environmental impact and focus on waste-reduction but also promote awareness of the environmental impact of our choices and encourage responsible consumer behavior.

Trees that can offer some respite from plastic pollution

There are numerous plants that can serve as plastic substitutes and aid in the restoration of the ecosystem and the habitats of species that have been seriously harmed by plastic pollution. Bioplastics can be made from plants like hemp and bamboo. Bioplastics have a lower environmental impact because they are made from renewable resources and can be composted. The fibers and cellulose obtained from these trees can be processed to create bioplastic materials that can be used as an alternative to traditional plastic in various applications.

Bamboo is one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, capable of reaching maturity within 3 to 5 years. Its rapid growth rate makes it an excellent alternative to plastic and other traditional wood sources which take much longer to grow and produce. It has a lower environmental impact than other crops because it needs less water, pesticides, and fertilizers. Bamboo is a highly versatile material that can be used to make a variety of things, including furniture, flooring, cutlery, apparel, construction materials, and more.  

Another important reason to use it instead of plastic is its biodegradable nature. Unlike plastic, which can persist in the environment for hundreds of years, bamboo products naturally decompose, reducing the burden on landfills and minimizing pollution. This biodegradability ensures that bamboo products have a lower long-term impact on the environment compared to non-biodegradable materials. 

It is for these reasons that bamboo is extensively grown at many of our project sites. In fact, at our project ‘Trees for Elephants’ in Jharkhand we have seen women weaving baskets and utensils out of bamboo during our site visit. 

Another plant-based substance that is frequently used as a plastic substitute is cork, which is also used for flooring, insulation, and as a replacement for synthetic foams. It is made from the bark of the cork oak tree, which is a natural and renewable resource. Cork has great insulating qualities, is lightweight, buoyant, and impermeable to liquids and gases.The cork tree can regenerate and continue to produce cork for many years as the harvesting procedure is sustainable and does not harm the tree. Cork is biodegradable, and compared to plastic, cork production has a smaller carbon footprint. 

The rubber tree is primarily cultivated for latex production, which is used to make natural rubber. Natural rubber is often used as an alternative to synthetic rubbers derived from petroleum. It has a wide range of applications, including tyres, footwear, and various industrial and consumer products.

Tree-based alternatives require awareness and mindset change 

We can save non-renewable resources like fossil fuels, which are heavily utilized in the manufacture of plastic, by using tree-based alternatives. This encourages the sustainable use of renewable resources while preserving these scarce resources for other crucial applications. As tree-based materials may be recycled or repurposed into new products, these alternatives can also aid in our transition to a circular economy. For instance, cork may be ground and used again in a variety of products, including flooring and insulation. Tree-based alternatives can be recycled and upcycled to increase their lifespan, decrease waste production, and conserve resources.

Understanding the need to change to a sustainable lifestyle for both our sake and the planet’s is necessary to give up plastic, recognise its effects, and convert to alternatives made of trees. One of the biggest environmental crises today is plastic pollution. Due to its non-biodegradable nature and chemical discharge, it has been causing risks to the environment, wildlife, and people for many years now. The theme for this World Environment Day is #BeatPlasticPollution;  if we don’t alter our behavior for the benefit of the Earth, the use of plastic will be another activity that is associated with humanity’s disregard for the environment.

Products you can replace with tree-based alternatives 

  • You can replace your plastic straws, cutlery, bowls, cups, toothbrushes, and combs with bamboo alternatives. The latter is more durable, giving you a better value for money. 
  • Bamboo can be used in the production of furniture and home decor items. It can be shaped into chairs, tables, shelves, and decorative pieces, offering a sustainable and stylish alternative to plastic furniture.
  • As a step towards discouraging cutting of trees for paper, you can go for hemp paper! Hemp fibers can be pulped to create paper and cardboard products. Hemp paper is known for its durability and longevity, and it can be recycled more times than traditional wood-based paper. 
  • Hemp fibers can be processed into packaging materials such as bags, pouches, and wraps. 
  • Cork wall tiles and panels offer a natural and sustainable alternative to plastic wall coverings. 
  • You can also replace your plastic stationery and office supplies with cork products like cork boards, bulletin boards, mouse pads, etc.