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Invisible Injustices - 90

Invisible Injustices - 90

Plastic is found in everything of our daily use like kitchenware, bottles, computers, cars, various types of machineries and even the air planes and space ships. One plastic may block oxygen from reaching food. Another may be transparent like glass yet tough or stretch and bounce back in shape. Another may trap air inside itself or stop a bullet. That’s why plastics are used in so many ways: they protect our food, cushion our fall, insulate our homes, improve our cars’ gas mileage, keeps us dry when it’s raining… and many other things.

The beauty of the plastic is that is completely recyclable into thousands of items of daily use. Yet left in the open after use they become the greatest polluter in the environment.

Every year June 5 is held as the world environment day and is celebrated with a chosen world theme to help people to focus on one or other aspect of environment. “Beat Plastic Pollution” was the theme chosen as the UN Environment day for the year 2018. In a message, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres urged all people to reject single-use of plastic items, and warned that growing levels of plastic waste were becoming unmanageable, saying, “Every year, more than eight million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans”. The ground level experience of such theme based environmental day celebrations and movement do not go beyond a high level global meeting in which invited dignitaries make bombastic speeches. The “Beat Plastic Pollution” movement of 2018 had no significant effect to improve the global environment, as is evident in the pictures in this article.  Ultimately almost all the plastic items end up in the water bodies like river beds, lakes and sea, where it will remain intact up to 1000 or more years polluting the water and damaging all the aquatic flora and fauna.

Following are the simple ways of total recycling of used plastics to prevent pollution at the level of common people who use them. (Disposal of plastics from hospitals and health centres are done as per guidelines of hospital waste management. Hence they are not covered under this write up.)

1.   Store all the used plastics in a bigger polythene bag or gunny bag by every family, institution, shop or any other type of plastic user. Never leave any plastic item in the open. Before storing them, see that they are not wet or have remnants of any wet contents. If so wash and dry them before storing. Protect the stored up plastics from getting wet by rain or some other form of water invasion. Storage of plastic waste at its source is termed primary level storage. Sorting and segregation could also be introduced at the primary level depending on the amount of plastic wastes generated at the primary level.

2.   Transfer all plastic wastes from the primary level storage to a local collection centre daily, weekly or monthly depending on the amount available and it can be termed as secondary level storage. Sorting and grading the plastic wastes could be done at this level. They are packed and stored according to different types of plastics. If needed, there can be third or fourth level collection centres. With modern communication methods it is so easy to communicate between primary level storage units and the collection centres at different levels. Thus a chain of collectors and transporters will be formed across a geographical area. 

3.   Finally all the sorted and packaged plastic wastes are reached to the plastic recycling factory and will be processed into primary plastic raw materials from which various other consumable plastic products are manufactured.

4.   Fix remunerations to the collectors and transporters at all levels in the chain depending on the quantity they collected or transported. People should feel that it is remunerative to be a link in the plastics recycling chain.

5.   The factory will pay for all the raw material received as plastics wastes without delay.

6.   Such factories should be established and run by NGOs and religious organizations too instead of running only educational and health institutions. Such institutional changes are needed to tackle the plastic pollution in our country. At present there is a strong trend among the NGOs including religious organizations that they will mostly be engaged in educational and health related works. They should realize that waste management is wealth management and environment building.

7.   Collective enforcement is necessary to overcome the public inertia to tackle plastic pollution successfully. For example in some other countries if a plastic waste is noticed in any locality all the families in that locality is fined. Therefore, each member in that locality group acts as a check on the possible polluter of plastic or any other waste. Such peer group pressure has to be maintained to avoid defaulters in the control of plastic pollution.

8.   Further, in each school/college a plastic collection and storage programme should be introduced and maintained by the students and staff themselves storing them free from wetting conditions and selling them to the collectors or to the factories. Schools and other education institutions generate huge amount of plastics. If the children are introduced into the daily habit of collecting and storing the plastic wastes for recycling, they will continue such habit lifelong.

Plastics are becoming more and more ubiquitous from the least slum house to the most sophisticated equipment even in the aircrafts and spaceships. It is better to go for complete recycling of plastics and encourage everyone to be partners in recycling rather than annual public utterances and popular shows of “Swachh Bharat Abhyan”. Then it will become a ritual and not a reality. Otherwise “Beat Plastic Pollution” becomes an invisible injustice of uttering a lot but doing mighty little.  “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan” should go beyond the annual rituals and celebrations to a complete and fully participated pollution free status of environment.

(The writer is a retired Professor, XIM, Bhubaneswar. Email: ktchandysj@gmail.com)

(Published on 22nd October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 43)