The plastic magnet tree

I was taking my morning walk at a very scenic place where the air was fresh, trees flanked the road, and birds flitted here and there. There was an overall sense of peace. Of vastness, of nature at its gentlest, relaxed. Here are some pictures.

nice morning walk scenenice morning walk scenenice morning walk scene

And then, I spotted a tree that looked different.

From a distance, I thought some sort of unusual fruit was hanging off the branches. Then I went closer and realized those weren’t large fruit, nor were they nests; they were plastic bags. Apparently people had flung garbage (tied in plastic bags). Why target this tree? Was there something special about it? I stood there for a while, but found nothing different about that tree, in terms of its type, size, or location. No religious symbols nearby, that could imply these were plastic wrapped offerings to the gods. No sign saying, “please throw your waste here.” The tree looked like the trees near it, except for the plastic bags hanging off it.

tree with plastic bagstree with plastic bags

A few months later, passing by the same route, I noticed a few more plastic bags hanging on the tree, and also some plastic bags hanging off the lower branches of a neighboring tree.

This is what I suspect: someone flung the first plastic bag, or maybe a bunch of them, maybe from a bus or car or while walking past. And now, once in a while, when people who have seen this tree are walking nearby and they have a bag they want to dispose, they throw it here because the tree has already been “marked.”

I call this the plastic magnet tree.

There is, of course, no garbage bin around. Not needed, I guess, because there is this tree.

A hot day, buttermilk, and the satisfied discards of the litter-ati

So, right in front of our car is a bus. And somewhere, way ahead, is a closed railway gate. It’s a hot day. The bus is a long-distance bus, but not of the luxury sort.

The situation presents a business opportunity.

Sure enough, along comes a man with a cloth bag. There are plastic straws in a plastic pouch in his shirt pocket. His bag is full of plastic pouches with buttermilk and he takes out a couple of pouches and waves them out to the passengers in the bus. Hands wave back at him.

Business is brisk. Dozens of packets are sold. Some passengers even get down to buy them.

The vendor walks away.

And then the plastic packets start flying out of the window, sucked empty. Straws, too. They are thrown by the persons inside the bus, who do not even bother to check if anyone is passing near the bus; one packet almost falls on a scooterist who is trying to squeeze his way to the front of the winding queue of vehicles.

I’m sure you can picture what happens.It has taken just a few minutes and a buttermilk vendor to convert a relatively clean stretch of roadside mud to a splatter of discarded plastic.

bus stopsvendor selling stuff arivesvendor does businessvendor does businesspacket thrown outheap of littered packets

We are a culture without dustbins. I don’t think the bus had a dustbin; roads rarely do, anyway. And I don’t think anyone would have even looked for one, because these things are all inter-connected–people don’t look for or demand dustbins, they don’t expect them. They also don’t miss them. Packets can always be thrown out of the window, right?

Years ago, too, there were such buses, such vendors, such quenchers of thirsts. But the buttermilk was supplied in glasses that were collected back. Or in glass bottles that were paid for, and the money refunded when the bottle was returned. Or in earthen cups.

Not in plastic packets that won’t bio-degrade.

And here’s a thought: If they priced plastic packets to take into account the environmental costs, I suspect we’d be serving buttermilk in washable and collect-back glasses again.