Plastic pollution in the oceans is a major problem for which we are paying a lot.
It is not that we do not know what to do with plastic waste that’s slowly choking the planet. It is about changing our practices and the habits we spin around them, it is about the willingness to invest some cost, time and effort in turning our lives around and most importantly it is about conviction in some very inconvenient truths. In the toss-up of facts and figures, one comparative that stands out is that we have generated more plastic trash in the last ten years than we have in the 100 preceding them. Such is the volume of trash in our oceans that environmentalists have warned of a floating plastic continent, which is leaching out into virgin water with the sunlight and forming a soup of chemicals that is affecting marine life and biodiversity. The same holds for river and lake water. Worse, if we ingest seafood, river fish or aquatic plants, we are consuming 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year, according to Plastic Planet. Maybe we should sit up a bit knowing that the rampant use of plastic conveniences and their non-biodegradable nature have meant that they have remained stuck in our surrounds, breaking down incompletely into dangerous sub-parts, substances which have now been proven to impact our internal health, priming triggers of deadly diseases. Certain policy interventions are needed to make sure that sustainable practices generate a huge demand for the plastic industry to revise its procedures and invest in R&D for an environmental-friendly alternative. For example, the no plastic-across-the-counter and a carbon credit policy at retail chains was implemented and followed aggressively till it was abandoned as consumer behaviour remained stubborn about a right to a single-use carry-bag in return for taxes paid. Once this is a strict no-no, people would willy-nilly begin to carry their own carry bags or opt for cloth and paper variants offered by salesmen at a price.
The other challenge is to make sure that all plastic trash is recyclable and while awareness about waste segregation has now percolated to the household level, the sorting and collection of recyclable waste for an easy logistic channel to the plant site needs to be ironed out and if possible subsidised to some extent. Industries that are vastly reliant on recyclable or virgin plastic should also be made to pay for dealing with the waste by an in-built buyback system post sales, enabling a reuse of the same stock. Toy and pharma majors immediately come to mind as potentially having the capacity, given their gains, to adopt this module. Similarly a littering fine could be worked in at the community level to make each individual household a stakeholder in a clean-up mission. A compulsory dumping penalty is much required in our country where, despite swachh campaigns, it is considered socially acceptable to dump anything anywhere, so long as it is not in our immediate environs. For Indians, making alternative lifestyle choices is not that difficult either considering we have it encoded in our origins. All we need is to revisit the basics of a generation ago. Be it paper straws, jute and cloth bags, earthen cups, terracotta ware and roadside snacks consumed from bowls and plates fashioned from leaves, the good old flasks, tiffin cases, glass bottles, metal containers, plant-based tableware and cutlery at community feasts, our herbal cosmetics, everyday life was much dependent on reuse. Vegetable and fruit peels too were composted in the backyard for kitchen gardens.
India’s challenges for a switchover are many given the primacy of plastic in all spheres of our lives. But without radical choices, our future is at stake. At least we can begin with the three R’s of plastic management — recycle, reuse and reduce. That’s how we would get the fourth R — retract.
Courtesy: The Pioneer