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Worth Pursuing

Worth Pursuing

The need for environmental cleanliness is a goal worth pursuing in the right earnest.

Yes, the Government’s resolve to curb single-use plastic from October 2, coinciding with the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is a welcome step in the right direction.

Undoubtedly, plastic products – be it bottles, bags, containers, spoons, forks or plates – are flexible, lightweight, affordable etc. It is an efficient and cheap way to transport goods. However, mountains of used plastic water bottles, plastic plates, spoons and paper cups strewn in public spaces across cities is not only an eyesore but a health hazard, too. Such unrecyclable waste in mammoth quantities generated day after day is a cause for serious concern.

Nevertheless, the perils of plastic pollution, specifically, the menace of single-use plastic is a growing problem which requires immediate attention. Every single-use plastic bag, straw, spoon, plate, fork, bottle and container, beyond clogging drains, polluting rivers and water bodies is responsible for the premature death of animals besides creating avoidable health consequences to human beings as well.

If reports are to be believed, more than 25 countries dumped nearly 1,21,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste in India after recycling domestic companies clandestinely imported it. Although there are no official statistics on the quantum of plastic waste that is dumped into the sea, rivers and drainage, a recent Central Pollution Control Board study in 60 major cities of India has estimated that around 4059 tonne per day of plastic waste is generated from our cities. Extrapolating this data to the entire country, it is estimated that a whopping 25,940 tonne per day of plastic waste is generated in the country. The study also found 80% of plastics went into packaging; packaging accounts for 50% of global plastic waste. Delhi generates 690 tonnes plastic waste daily but recycles only 10% of it.  

There is no dearth for legislations in the country. The most recent law - Plastic Waste Management Rules - notified in 2016 mandates the responsibilities of generators of waste to take steps to minimize the generation of plastic waste and ensure segregated storage of waste at source. Local bodies including gram panchayats have been made responsible to effectively manage plastic waste. Carry bags made of virgin or recycled plastic less than fifty microns in thickness has been prohibited due to non-recyclability. There is complete ban on sachets using plastic material used for storing, packing or selling gutkha, tobacco and pan masala. While Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu have shown significant progress in terms of eliminating plastic carry bags, there is much to be done to curb the plastic menace.

Voluntary initiatives are fine, but there are ample small ways in which the use of single-use plastics can be minimized. The Indian Railways is to enforce a ban on single-use plastic on trains and its premises starting from October 2. As part of extended producer responsibility, Railways would collect used plastic water bottles and dispose the same in an eco-friendly manner for which around 2000 plastic water bottle crushing machines are to be installed at 360 major stations in the first phase.  

Reportedly, the Lok Sabha Secretariat has prohibited the use of non-reusable plastic water bottles and other plastic items within the Parliament House Complex. Many public sector and private firms have curbed the use of plastic water bottles in their premises which is worth replication. More recently, the Government announced that price of milk sold in small poly packs would be increased so as to curb its consumption while the price of milk in bigger poly packs would be reduced. In some cities, used milk poly packs are collected for which an incentive is paid to the consumer.

It is heartening that India is committed to eliminating all single-use plastic by 2022.  But what about lakhs of unskilled labour, mostly poor women, who are involved in various processes of plastics manufacturing which doesn’t require big skills?  As their future is at stake, it is imperative they are rehabilitated suitably.

Approximately 6% of oil produced globally goes towards the plastic manufacturing industry. Notably, plastic bags make up a considerable (35-40%) portion of plastics production. As plastic is derived from petroleum, reducing its use could eventually reduce fossil fuel dependence.

At a micro level, remember, every time we buy a single-use plastic item and discard it with staggering impunity, we are setting up a domino effect that ends in swelling the earth’s heaving, festering landfills and further choking our already breathless cities.  

It is time to be active to prohibit the use of plastic in airports railway stations, malls, public places etc. and restore the environment by reducing its use.

It needs to be appreciated that if we don’t eliminate them, they could well eliminate all our chances for a healthy life.

(Published on 02nd September 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 36)