Ashwath Hegde may have a solution to India's alarming plastic pollution epidemic that is so good you’ll want to eat it right up.
“It’s completely edible!” Hegde says. To prove his point, he takes a bite out of the bag in his hand. Hegde, a 24-year-old businessman from Bengaluru, developed a plastic bag made from tapioca and vegetable starches that is eco-friendly, biodegradable, and 100 percent edible. “We’re not recommending that people eat these plastic bags but, if they do, nothing will happen to them. It’s totally safe.”
Hedge’s discovery is a victory in the ongoing war against trash. Despite having a smaller population, India could soon overtake the United States and China as the world leader in waste. It’s estimated that India produces 15,000 tons of plastic waste daily. Of the 15,000 tons of waste, only 6,000 gets collected. That leaves 9,000 tons of waste that makes its way to the streets.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the Clean India Movement in 2014. Also known as Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the goal is to clean up the streets, improve overall sanitation, and make India a plastic-free country. This movement has ignited a sense of urgency and inspired innovation throughout India.
But some say the movement does too little. Just look at cows, they say.
The cow is a sacred creature in Hinduism. Their milk is the only substance consumed by followers. Yet, despite their status, cows suffer painful deaths as a result of eating plastic. As cows rummage the streets for food, they consume plastic that will solidify in their stomachs and starve them to death. The “plastic cow” epidemic is a direct result of India’s waste problem. Rukimini Shekhar, an animal rights activist and writer, understands that until there is a solution to garbage management, these sacred animals remain at-risk.
“The people of India have long recognized that plastic bags are choking every life form—on land and water,” Shekhar told The Quint, a popular Indian news site. “We all have just one question for the PM—what will you do to rid India of plastic bags and save animals and the environment?”
But examples of progress can be seen from the development of biodegradable cutlery to creating “green” roads made out of plastic waste. Both innovations tackle the plastic problem and offer products that will change the way India and the world use plastic.
Even Hedge and his edible plastic bags are a part of a movement towards saving India and preserving all that the citizens hold dear. “In India,” Hedge says, “we treat the sun, earth and water as gods. I’m a Hindu, and this is part of our culture and our heritage. We must preserve it for future generations.”