Return to nature and old ways to shun plastic effectively

Leaves were once used to serve piping hot food in various parts of the state.

As Kerala is saying good riddance to single-use plastic, this is the right moment to break free from the use of various plastic products that are wreaking havoc on the environment. The advent of plastic ushered in a sea change for mankind but the habit of strewing plastic all around is taking a toll on the lives of humans, animals, birds and other living beings. Moreover, water sources have become contaminated and the public places are wearing a shabby look due to the plastic menace.

This new year, let’s take a ringside view of how the use of environment-friendly products such as leaves, bamboo, cloths, paper, glass, soil, metal and other recyclable materials instead of plastic can have a positive effect on the lives of people.

Nature’s alternatives to plastic

The idiom – where there’s a will there’s a way – stands good in the case of eliminating plastic use. With the plastic ban coming into effect from January 1, there is a need, at least in a modest way, to start using again organic materials such as leaves, natural twines and bamboo as substitutes for plastic.

During earlier times, leaves were an inevitable part of people’s lives but slowly things changed with the advent of plastic. Teak leaves, ‘vattayila’ and plantain leaves were used excessively for various purposes. A person having plantain trees in the courtyard can use their leaves instead of plastic thermocol containers to pack food. Otherwise steel containers can also be used to shun plastic.

Leaves were once used to serve piping hot food in various parts of the state. Plantain leaves were as important in Kerala like plates made of beedi leaves in north India, which are similar to plates made from spathes of areca palm in the state. Everyone will walk down the memory lane while speaking about the sweet aroma of lunch (pothichor) wrapped in steamed plantain leaves.

Holy materials and ‘payasam’ (sweet pudding) along with other religious offerings (prasadam) from the temples are even now distributed to devotees on leaves.

The medicinal leaves of Portia tree (Poovarasu) are used to spread the idli batter while making delicious idlis. The leaves of Indian Coral tree (murukku) are also used for the same purpose while steaming idlis.

The thick spathes of areca palm were not only used to make plates but also images for ‘Padayyani’, a traditional folk dance and ritual art form, and buckets. The leaves of Arbi (chembu) also served as umbrellas during rainy seasons. The twines made from plantain trees were the best coir around and swings were created out of creepers.

Leaves of mango trees served as tooth brushes and the long narrow sticks found in coconut leaves doubled up as tongue cleaners. The elementary math was taught with the help of the small red seeds known as ‘manjadikuru’, and exquisite baskets were made from leaves of palm trees and coconut trees. The stem of plantain trees was used to make festoons and lamps were made from the seed shells of chaulmurga tree (Marotti). The traditional ‘vattapasha’ and rice were the adhesives, but the seeds of the Indian Persimmon tree, which were used as adhesive while making the musical instrument Ghanjira, are nowhere to be seen.

With the plastic ban in place, there is a need, at least to a certain extent, to go back to the roots and find substitutes for plastic products. The use of non-biodegradable plastic should be avoided and children should also be given an opportunity to play with toys made of leaves of coconut trees and wood. And this would be an opportunity to pave the way for a plastic-free world.