Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to shun single-use plastic and encouraged the usage of jute and cloth bags to protect the environment. The PM urged start-ups and experts to find ways to recycle plastic, like using it in building highways and appealed to shopkeepers to have boards in front of their shops saying, “Please don’t expect plastic bags here. Bring cloth bags from home or take them from us at a price”. On the World Environment Day last year, the government had announced its intention to phase out single-use plastic like straws and cups by 2022. According to the Environment Ministry, about 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in the country, out of which only 13,000-14000 tonnes are collected. Experts have maintained that the problem lies in the inadequate collection and recycling systems.
Edited excerpts from the Debate
Question - What are single-use plastics? What are the harms caused by these plastics?
Single-use plastics are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. Items such as plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles are examples of single-use plastics.
Harmful effects of single-use plastics
- Waste generation: Millions of tons of plastic are produced every year, most of which cannot be recycled. More than 75% of all plastics wind up as waste.
- Generation of Microplastics - As plastic is non-biodegradable, it breaks down into tiny particles after many years and gets converted into microplastics. Microplastics less than 5 mm (0.2 inches) in length persist for long in the environment enhancing the harmful effects of plastic pollution.
- Environmental pollution: Some 100 million tonnes is dumped or leaches into Nature, polluting land, rivers and the sea. Oceans get clogged with an estimated 9 million tonnes of plastic every year, and rivers play a significant role in making the problem worse as they act as conveyor belts for plastic debris flowing into the oceans. A large garbage dump of plastics has been accumulated in the North Pacific region.
- Affect food chain: Plastic bits in the ocean can absorb and concentrate organic pollutants such as PCBs and DDT from the surrounding seawater. These pollutants causing cancer and birth defects and other body's tissues and organs are also passed up the food chain when predators, such as humans, eat prey that has been contaminated.
- Human health: In the process of breaking down, the plastic releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply.These toxic chemicals are now being found in our bloodstream and the latest research has found them to disrupt the Endocrine system which can cause cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments. Microplastics in air also add to respiratory problems.
- Economic impacts – Fisheries, aquaculture, recreational activities and global well-being are all negatively affected by plastic pollution, with an estimated 1-5% decline in the benefits humans derive from the oceans.
Question - What are the challenges that India face in tackling plastic pollution?
- Collection – India has a total recycling of plastics is just around 60%. The global average is even worse and just around 16 % to 18 %.
- Lack of cheaper alternatives- Though there are talks of a complete ban on plastic use, we don’t have any suitable eco-friendly and affordable alternatives to replace plastic.
- Improper Waste management – Most of the waste is collected by the informal sector. No proper segregation of waste at source adds to the menace. Also, solid waste is deposited at a dump yard within or outside the city haphazardly.
- Narrow Mindset – People are not concerned about the environmental effects of plastic pollution. They use plastic excessively and dump them unscientifically without recycling.
Question - What is India’s current status in terms of plastic waste generation?
- 45% of plastics produced in India today are single-use.
- Our plastic consumption is increasing. The plastic processing industry is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes (MT) a year by 2020 from 13.4 MT in 2015 and nearly half of this is single-use plastic
- India ranks number three in terms of plastic fibres found in a sample of tap water – 82.4 per cent of tap water sampled in India contained over four plastic fibres per 500 ml, the study found.
- Uttar Pradesh generated 2.06 lakh TPA (tonnes per annum) plastic wastes and had 16 unregistered manufacturing/recycling units.
- Gujarat followed with 2.6 lakh TPA of plastic waste generated and zero unregistered manufacturing/recycling units.
Question - What are the government initiatives taken across the country to tackle this menace?
- Plastic Waste Management Rules have been amended to increase the minimum thickness of plastic carry from 40 microns to 50 microns and several other changes like extended producers responsibility were made to reduce usage of plastic.
- Under the Blue Flag certification initiative, Society of Integrated Coastal Management (SICOM) under MoEFCC is developing Indian beaches to make them clean and free of pollution including dumping of garbage and sewage. This will reduce plastic waste which has been serious concern for fishes and other sea creatures.
- Road construction using plastic provides a solution to plastic waste. To increase recycling rates, in 2015, the Indian government made the use of plastic waste in the road construction industry mandatory.
- Biofuels: Industrial plants making fuels such as diesel and petrol from plastic waste have been built by the Indian Institute of Petroleum. The fuel obtained from the conversion of plastic is completely environmentally friendly due to the absence of any toxic substances.
- Government offices in Kerala have switched to ink pens and steel cutlery to ensure articles like plastic water bottles, disposable tea cups and plastic carry bags are no longer used across the office premises.
- As per a brilliant initiative helmed by Kerala’s Suchitwa Mission, 28 fishermen from the Neendakara harbour have been engaged in not just finding fish but also plastic that either gets stuck in the fishing nets or floats in the sea.
- Sikkim has earned the tag of India’s cleanest state and it became the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags in 1998 itself. In 2016, it took a significant step by banning the use of packaged drinking water in government offices and government events.
- Using plastics for road surfacing is now a reality, and states like Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are already implementing this pioneering tactic to manage their plastic waste.
- The Municipal Corporation of Chhattisgarh, in a bid to spread awareness of curbing plastic use, feed the homeless and rag-pickers, and empower poor women, is going to open the cafe soon. While a kg of waste will fetch one a full meal, half a kg will get one a breakfast.
- From construction materials to threads and fabrics for the textile industry, many organisations across India have been upcycling plastic for more significant purposes.
- Introduction of “Beat Plastic Pollution” drive-by Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) in East Delhi schools.
Question - What are the further steps that can be taken to address the problem?
- Waste segregation at source and deployment of plastic collection at grassroots need to be taken up. It will help in tackling both organic waste and plastic waste.
- Circular plastic economy needs to be promoted connecting producers to users and ultimately to waste managers.
- Jute industry needs to be promoted as jute is an excellent alternative for plastic bags as it is eco-friendly and durable. Also, it would have several economic benefits in terms of employment and increase in GDP.
- Use of bioplastics needs to be promoted. These 100% degradable, equally resistant and versatile that come from renewable sources and can be used to reduce the problem of plastic waste.
Question - What are some international initiatives taken to tackle plastic waste?
- The European Commission in 2018 urged the 28 members of the European Union to approve bans on single-use plastics. It would recycle 90% of all plastic bottles. It would prohibit plastic in drink stirrers, cutlery, plates, and straws
- On June 5, 2018, the United Nations focused its World Environmental Day on "Beat Plastic Pollution." It inspired India to ban single-use plastics by 2022. Britain, Scotland, Chile, and Taiwan have followed suit.
- In 2019, the U.S. state of New Jersey proposed the most far-reaching set of plastics regulations in the nation. It is considering a bill to ban plastic straws, foam cups, and plastic bags.
- In May 2019, 187 countries added plastic to the list of hazardous materials regulated by the Basel Convention. Countries cannot ship plastic waste to other countries without the recipients' approval.
- We have to invest in R&D and obtain detailed data on the plastic waste generated and address the problem with technological innovations.
- Alternative sources of funding must be found to tackle plastic pollution.
- Leading a grassroots movement to support the adoption of a global framework to regulate plastic pollution.
- Educating, mobilising and activating citizens across the globe to demand that governments and corporations control and clean up plastic pollution.
- Educating people worldwide to take personal responsibility for plastic pollution by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.
- Promoting local government regulatory and other efforts to tackle plastic pollution.
Question- India aims to phase out single-use plastic like straws and cups by 2022. Enumerate what steps have been taken to achieve it and what further steps need to be taken?
Question- The Prime Minister has recently highlighted the rising problem of plastic pollution in India. Examine the detrimental socio-economic effects of single-use plastic. Also, enumerate the initiatives taken by India to address this problem and provide some further innovative solutions to curb this menace.