Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it that eventually makes it a problem. Intentions have always been on the mark as far as India is concerned. Our country falters only when it comes to implementation. This differentiates us from other successful countries in the world
On June 5, 2018 the United Nations (UN) released a report to mark the World Environment Day. The report shed light on some grim and pressing environmental issues, one of which was the rampant use of plastics and how it is poised to create an irreversible crisis for the environment.
The UN report stated that if current consumption patterns continue and plastic waste management practices do not improve, by 2050 there will be about 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter in land fills and the natural environment. The largest impact is expected to be from single use plastic items whose production and use has seen an ever-increasing rise.
Plastic is a miracle material. Thanks to plastics, countless lives have been saved in the health sector, the growth of clean energy from wind turbines and solar panels has been greatly facilitated, and safe food storage has been revolutionised.
But what makes plastic so convenient in our day-to-day lives? It’s cheap and ubiquitous, resulting in one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges. Our oceans have been used as a dumping ground, choking oceanic life and transforming some marine areas into a plastic soup. In cities around the world, plastic waste clogs drains, causing floods and breeding disease. Consumed by livestock, it also finds its way into the food chain.
Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use. Most plastics may be single-use, but that does not mean they are easily disposable. When discarded in landfills or in the environment, plastic can take up to a 1,000 years to decompose.
The severity of the environmental conditions speaks of how the rampant use plastics have caused irreparable damage to the fragile ecology of our planet. But inspite of these circumstances, authorities across the world and especially in India are struggling to put an effective end to the rampant use of plastics.
However, some countries are recovering from the plastic setback and setting enviable benchmarks in plastic use control and in the process becoming global environmental leaders. Rwanda, for instance, has emerged as a pioneer in banning single-use plastic bags, and in the process, is now one of the cleanest nations on the earth.
Kenya has followed suit, helping clear its iconic national parks and save its cows from an unhealthy diet comprising of plastic ingested involuntarily. Compared to these nations, India is yet to hit target when it comes to blanket plastic ban.
Take the State of Maharashtra, for instance, which has enforced complete plastic bag ban, but inspite of this, even today one can still see roadside vendors using these bags to pack their wares.
Intentions have always been on the mark, as far as India is concerned regarding plastic use control. Our country falters only when it comes to implementation. This gap between intention and implementation differentiates us from other successful countries in the world. Much of the lack of success in implementation stems from large-scale illiteracy that exists across the country; this directly impacts an individual’s ability to understand the ill-effects plastics on the environment. Due to these conditions, the purchase of plastic does not stop and when demand is there, supply too is not far behind.
The Government cannot undertake a nationwide literacy drive in order to make plastic ban a success. However, what it can do is to impose exemplary ban on plastic manufacturing units, especially the single use plastic type and also come down heavily on plastic raw material suppliers.
This alone can change the course and force the people to look for eco-friendly alternatives. Here the Government can bring in jute manufacturers and help them with subsidies so that jute items can seamlessly fill up the vacuum of plastic ban. These initiatives will help add a new a chapter in India’s fight against plastic pollution.
Plastic isn’t the problem. It’s what we do with it that eventually makes it a problem. This means that effective handling and smart use of plastic can help us profit from this miracle while safeguarding our environment at the same time. These efforts will spell huge gains for the people and the planet, which in turn, will help avert the costly downstream costs of plastic pollution.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)
Writer: Kota Sriraj
Courtesy: The Pioneer