Last night we had dinner with members of staff at a local boarding school here in the Niligiri Hills. Good Shepherd is a wonderful school with fabulous facilities including organic food raised on their own farm as well as staff student ratios to make the mind boggles. Over dinner I learned something new about the impact on the environment and it really shocked me.
If you are reading this at all you probably already know what a huge proportion of landfill is made up by plastic, how long it takes to break down, and how much of it finishes up eventually in the ocean, concentrating in one of the gyres and filling the stomachs of fish and sea birds so that they eventually starve to death.
But did you know that a single plastic bag or bottle can cause hundreds of square yards of erosion on a hillside? (and so can any other non-biodegradable waste for that matter.) Appalling thought but it happens to be true. Here in these steep mountains there is a fragile balance between plant life, soil and rock. Where the streams tumble down the hillside after rain the steep nature of the terrain quickly builds up sufficient force to wash off the thin soil covering and expose the granite surface beneath. Drop a plastic bag and it will likely damn a tiny rivulet, diverting the water so that it cuts a new channel, joins up with a different water path, changes the flow and bobs your uncle, more soil is heading down from the hills to the valley. By the acre.
This isn’t just a problem for the wildlife – and the local native shola forest is seriously endangered by a mix of agriculture, building of holiday homes, and invasive species escaped from gardens – it is a disaster for the local farmers who produce tea and coffee for our tables in the West here, along with intensive vegetable production for more local markets. And all because of a simple plastic bag or bottle.