India is one of the fastest emerging economies in the world, and contains a speedily mounting consumer class. With growing per capita incomes, there is an attendant boost in the use of plastics products. The consequence of this increased use of plastics is the waste that has the potential to have an effect on our living environment. For, the problem with the plastic bags and other single use plastic products is about their disposal, once these have served their originally intended purpose of manufacture as well as the numerous other purposes that ingenious housewives and their ilk think of putting it to, their life seems endless. Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves accolades for announcing ‘goodbye’ to single use plastic products at his this year’s Independence speech from the ramparts of Red Fort. Although, the Union government has launched a nationwide drive to tackle plastic waste collection and recycling, the onus should be laid on the urban local bodies to strictly implement plastic collection and segregation of waste into recyclable and non-recyclable categories. These should, in turn, make the people responsible for segregating the waste into those categories at their premises with a strict directive that if they fail to comply with waste not being collected, heavy fines would be imposed. Also a nominal fee should be collected for each bag of such waste collected at their doorsteps in standard waste disposable bags or bins. These measures in themselves would deter people from generating unnecessary waste in the first place. Furthermore, the production units of single use plastics must be closed and exemplary punishment be awarded to them to deter others to do so. Next comes the distribution chain and consumption points, here the mass awareness will help a lot. In fact, the common man in general and the literates in particular are not fully aware of the deleterious off-shots of single use plastics. Hence, the government must attach premium to educate the people about its bad impact. The firm determination on the part of government and an equal amount of people’s willing co-operation must yield the desired fruits of banning the single use plastics in India.
Having said this, it is worth mentioning that all over the country, some city municipalities, civil society groups and individuals have risen to the occasion and have taken it upon themselves to reduce, in whatever way and to whatever extent, the burden of plastics on society. In this perspective, they deserve kudos, as single use plastic products are not biodegradable. Although these products are recyclable, which is the safest and most ideal way for disposing off the worn-out of these single use plastic products, in reality they end up in landfills, where it takes them hundreds of years to break down, thus making it the kind of stuff that an environmentalist’s nightmares are made of. Lakhs of tonnes of single use plastic products are produced annually. When plastics break down, normally they don’t bio-degrade, but they tend to photo-degrade, which means the materials tend to break down to smaller fragments and readily soak up toxins. They then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion, according to experts. However, there are several efforts registered by individuals and organisations across the country to tackle the challenge of plastic waste management. From cleaning our cities to making roads using plastics, to creating partnership models for effective solutions, the case studies present the pioneering efforts of extraordinary individuals and organisations. Also, case studies demonstrate that no single institution or individual can solve the challenges of plastic waste management on its own. Therefore, people need to realise that environmental pollution is a time-bomb ticking away, while much more needs to be done than debating the need to ban single use plastic products. There should be laws with teeth to prevent breaches of plastic pollution control.
By Deepak Kumar Rath