Battling the single-use plastic epidemic

The single-use plastics to be banned from October 2!

Environment

September 2, 2019

/ By / New Delhi

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According to studies single-use-plastic fragment to form small non-biodegradable pieces that leach carcinogenic substances

India generates around 9.4 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, with around 42 pc falling in the category of single-use plastics, causing serious damage to the environment. With the clarion call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban these, India is coming up with several alternatives and ways of cutting their usage.

Gone are the days when society was alien to the seemingly harmless and tempting multi-purpose polymer, plastic. Over the years, this trouble-maker has become a part of our everyday routine. Right from our plates, wardrobes, household necessities, toiletries and cosmetics to our medical kits, plastics are ubiquitous. With the growing dependence on the polymer, lately, some serious repercussions have come into the picture. The singe-use-plastics that call for being discarded after being used only once have caused some serious damage to the environment. Half of the plastic waste known to make its way to the oceans, fragment to form micro-plastic that leaches carcinogenic chemicals that not only harm the marine life but also enter the food chain, thereby, affecting humans too. While recycling came across as one of the most efficient solutions, as per the recent studies a plastic becomes unusable after being recycled for three-four times.

India alone generates around 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, out of which 43 pc is used for packaging, most of which falls in the category of single-use. Further, only 66 pc of the plastic waste is recycled, rest of it being dumped freely in the landfills and the Indian Ocean, causing some serious damage to the environment. Surprisingly, around 66 pc of the total plastic waste generated is sourced mainly from households and localities comprising polybags, multilayer pouches used for packing food items, etc.

The much-awaited ban

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Even when discarded, the single-use-plastics don’t decompose easily for many years

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi while delivering his Independence Day speech on August 15, called for a ban on the single-use plastics from October 2, which happens to be the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. The campaign is believed to ban the manufacture, usage and distribution of primarily six single-use plastic items- plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. As per the officials, the ban is expected to reduce around 5-10 pc annual plastic consumption of India which at present is around 14 million tonnes. Out of this total slashing of plastic waste, the ones generated by e-commerce companies alone is expected to reduce the waste by 40 pc. According to the data shared by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the per capita consumption of plastic is expected to go up from 11 kg in 2014-15 to 20 kg by 2022.  However, the complete boycott of these products is challenging and needs some time. Thus, the government will start imposing penalties only after an initial six-month period, to ensure that people get enough time to adapt to the alternatives by them.

The inefficient implementation of the already existing Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016, and amendments made two years later, challenges the success of the upcoming campaign. For instance, around 12 companies, earlier this year, were marketing carry bags and products marked compostable without any certification. Many are wary of such failures of implementation of the already existing provisions which suggests the unpreparedness of most cities and towns.

Stepping towards a plastic-free nation

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The government has issued certain guidelines for festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi in which immersion of offerings and idols cause water pollution

Many states, corporates, NGOs as well the general public are coming forward and are joining the battle against single-use plastics. Soon after the Lok Sabha Secretariat banned the use of non-reusable plastic in the Parliament complex and encouraged all the officers to go for biodegradable alternatives, states like Uttar Pradesh (UP) too banned it in their constituencies. Lucknow, the capital city of UP, has even launched a helpline (7839861314) to report any violation of the government’s ordeal of banning plastic of less than 50 microns in thickness.

Even the celebrations of the Hindu festival Ganesh Chaturthi, which involves immersion of idols of Lord Ganesha (a Hindu deity), florals and other offerings in water, will be regulated under specific guidelines in Delhi. The festivity across the nation is taking an eco-friendly twist with the idols being made by bio-degradable substances. One such celebration staged in Mumbai’s Lalbuagh area has installed 22 feet high Ganesh idol made of biodegradable components like paper, cotton etc. The organisers have even asked the attendees to refrain from bringing Agarbattis (incense sticks) and florals, and rather donate pens, notebooks etc., for the flood-affected regions in Maharashtra, the western Indian state.

The airlines are no behind. After the national carrier Vistara replaced all its small bottles with paper cups and replaced rest of the plastic with oxo-biodegradable plastic which gets decomposed in less than two years, Air India too has now decided to replace the 200 ml bottles distributed in the flights with larger 1,500 ml bottles. The airline will also replace the packing of banana chips and sandwiches with butter paper pouches and plastic tea cups with sturdy paper cups.

The Indian Railways too has directed the officials to look for the implementation of plastic drinking bottles as part of the extended producer responsibility besides the installation of 1,853 plastic water bottle crushing machines at 360 major stations.

From the e-commerce sector, believed to be one of the biggest culprits of plastic menace, the online portal Flipkart has taken numerous initiatives in the recent past, resulting in a 25 pc reduction in the plastic used in packaging sector. With steps like introducing eco-friendly paper shreds, replacing poly pouches with recycled paper bags, and replacing bubble wraps and airbags with carton waste shredded material and 2-ply roll, the brand is targeting to 100 pc plastic-free operation in a few years. It also is targeting a 30 pc collection back in the first year, subsequently setting the bar higher with each target achieved.

Besides such higher institutions coming up with these initiatives, the sensitivity towards the issue is seeping in through all the levels of the society.

Laxmi, a vegetable vendor from Delhi shares, “I am not getting any new polythene bags now. What’s the use? They’ll go obsolete from Gandhi Jayanti. Didn’t you hear Modiji talking about the ban? We want to support the cause in whichever way we can.”

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that while an improved infrastructure and a better monitoring policy is quintessential in achieving the target of making India plastic-free, the way people from all walks of the life are coming together for the cause, the challenging target seems achievable!

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