Last week I was attending the annual meeting of the Indian National Science Academy at the National Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhubaneswar. The meeting was quite a feast for the grey cells and we returned quite intellectually satiated. The hosts had put in considerable effort to make the meeting a success, and their meticulous arrangements included elaborate meals over the two and a half days of the conference. The participants enjoyed hearty meals while having academic discussions with their peers. Typically, during meal times, a set of housekeeping staff were engaged in constantly cleaning the tables and removing the trash. However, on the last day, the meeting ended with lunch, and people dispersed from the venue gradually. The volunteers were busy making departure arrangements and the catering team was relaxing, taking their own time packing up. As people waited, they sipped water from mini mineral water bottles that had been the only source of drinking water during the meeting. I was among the last to leave, and as I sat in the lounge chatting with some of the other participants, I was struck by the number of mineral water bottles that were strewn around on tables everywhere. Though these were really small bottles of 250 or perhaps 300 ml, most people had not emptied them and had left them lying around. There were dozens of bottles, but only a few were actually empty. The sight made me sad, angry and dejected.
In this meeting, we, the young academy INYAS had organized a symposium on food security and climate change. We discussed the future of our planet and what could be some of the remedial measures. We expressed concern over climate change and discussed the need to control our ecological footprint. In this very meeting we piled trash cans with plastic bottles, adding to the non-degradable waste of the world. I think we have in some way accepted the inevitability of the use of plastic in our day to day lives, and plastic mineral water bottles are a constant source of irritation for me, but something that I can’t do away with completely in today’s lifestyle.
More than the plastic, I was upset about the amount of water being wasted in this process. We talk about water scarcity, we express concern over the crisis of drinking water that the world is facing, we hit like buttons and share messages put up by WWF spreading awareness about conserving water, and then we take a few sips from a bottle and leave it lying around and dump it in the trash can without a thought. Is it too much to carry the bottle around and use up all the water that it carries? Do we do this when we actually BUY the bottle of water? Most often, we don’t. But when we have free water available, we don’t hesitate to waste this very precious resource, and we leave a trail of partially filled plastic bottles in our wake.
As I put my little bottle in my bag and prepared to leave the meeting venue, a senior professor came over and congratulated me for the excellent symposium that the young scientists had hosted. He said that it was great to see young people discuss these very relevant social issues, and said how we are the people who can bring in the much required awareness. I glanced at the table strewn with the bottles and thought, “whose awareness?”