Can Plastic become an alternative to Plastic?
The ghost of ban on single use plastic is out again. Since a couple of years the central government has been trying to get rid of single use plastic and they implemented a ban on the same too. During this time they have affected the ban 3 times. Once the ban is imposed, for 15 days it is implemented very strictly and after that, things return to normal as before the ban was implemented, and the government again announces and charts out the new dates and rules of imposing the ban. If you look at the situation of ban on single use plastic the government is simply giving dates upon dates. Even after so many dates, implementing rules and regulations on single use plastic, forget about complete success in this direction we have not also achieved the internal goals. Why? Because like issues of environmental pollution, single use plastic issue also has been brought under legal act, but there is no better, easy or eco-friendly alternative available or may be not enough concrete steps have been initiated in this direction.
However, before discussing the alternatives to single use plastic or our approach as responsible citizens, we need to take a special note of the fact that our government is very serious about preventing the use of single use plastic. Despite the public outcry over the decision, the government has repeatedly formed committees to curb the use of single use plastic and has worked hard to achieve tangible results. This time, when the Union Environment Ministry has issued an order banning single use plastic from July 1, other news came along with the order that the government is ready with a special team this time. The team will keep a close watch on the illegal manufacture, import, storage, distribution and sale of single use plastic in all the states and bring them to justice.
This time, the central government has urged all the state governments of the country to impose a complete ban on the import and export of single use plastic from one state to another and the state governments should also take strict action in this direction. The statement from the Union Ministry of Environment also states that, single use plastic is causing widespread damage to marine environment too, which will not be tolerated. For now, we don’t go into the discussions of how single use plastic affects the sea as well as air pollution because this topic has been discussed for years and even a small child of our country knows about the harms caused by it. However, why despite so many notifications and awareness campaigns regarding the harm caused by single use plastics, the ban on its use does not work or succeed in combating single use plastic? Because people are not getting cheap, affordable alternatives to single use plastic.
That is in Today’s time, the single most important issue of single use plastic is need. There should be other options available in the market that are affordable and easy to use. One thing to note here is that promoting paper bags or sacks as an alternative to plastic is not an option. It is like locking a camel to save the goat. The problem will get bigger. Ultimately, we only promote the destruction of the environment by promoting paper. Also, people have not given any such acceptance to paper because it does not have that capacity or paper bags would have been a thing of comfort. In the case of fabric something similar like paper is there. Accepting fabric as an alternative to plastic as a carry bag alone would increase the use of millions of tons of fabric and increase water consumption and water pollution, however, let us assume that when fabric is used as an alternative, how would we dispose of fabric completely?
So, what is the solution to this problem? The solution I see is plastic only! You might be thinking how can plastic be an alternative to plastic when there is talk of banning it?
however, I am not talking about single use plastic, what I mean is biodegradable or compostable plastic. Because plastic packaging has come on us to such an extent that we don’t like any other feel as a consumer. Our country will require massive amounts of alternatives But the big flaw is that the work that needs to be done in the direction of bioplastic is lacking that pace and effort.
One thing is very clear that the Government of India is very enthusiastic and keen about bioplastics, till June this year alone, the Central Pollution Control Board has given awards and specially certified a total of 194 factories across the country for manufacturing biodegradable or compostable plastic. The number of factories which can produce biodegradable plastic in India can give an output of 3 lakh tons annually combined. That is extremely low against our consumption.
So, the biggest problem is that it becomes imperative to produce as much bioplastic as we can. On the other hand, the affordability of bioplastic becomes just as important. Otherwise, even if its production increases and plastic become more expensive, there will be no takers. On the other hand, the government will have to be ready by setting up a modernized mechanism in each city for the disposal of bioplastic, that will dispose the additional non reusable bioplastic and prevent their disposal in the sea.
However, we will have to wait for many years to reach a point where we use only bioplastic. Whereas bioplastics alone is not capable to fill the consumption void of the entire population. Hence, it is necessary to introduce alternatives like glass, linen or cotton. However, this becomes the sole responsibility of the government. It is a fact that no feasible results will be achieved by banning single use plastic, unless, the government promotes other alternatives and launches public awareness campaigns for those alternatives. On the other hand, we as citizens, also have to be prepared to accept the challenge, and to win it we should be ready to bear a small burden in our budgets, this will be an investment for our new generation. Ultimately, we have the responsibility to give a healthy and clean planet to the new generation and that responsibility will be fulfilled only after some of our sacrifices.
By Viral Desai
(The author is a known environmentalist and the Pioneer of Satyagraha Against Pollution movement.)