“We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we are drowning in it.” This statement aptly describes how plastic, once considered a boon, is now threatening the earth. It’s strewn everywhere—on the streets and in the waste dumps; it is blocking sewer pipes, choking up landfills, floating on rivers and destroying our oceans and marine life. The problem is that left on its own very little of it gets recycled. It never decomposes, but finds its way back in the food chain as micro-particles that wreak havoc to life in soil and groundwater.
It was the plight of our oceans and marine life brought out by research studies and documentaries that rung the alarm bells globally. Almost 90% of debris floating on the oceans and lying on the beaches is plastic. Given the damage it has already done, it is difficult to believe that the first plastics were made just about a century ago. However, its production shot up after the Second World War. The world produced 335 million tonnes of plastic in 2016 and this figure is set to double by 2050.
India too is producing more and more plastic. Sadly, most of the plastic is produced for single use — 40% of all plastic produced is just meant for packaging, to be used once and thrown afterwards. From cars to toys to medical and sports equipment, plastic has become an indispensable part of our daily life. Milk comes in plastic sachets. Our waste liners are made of plastic. It is estimated that 40 plastic carry bags per week enter the average household in a city like Gurugram.
Plastic are synthetic polymers that mainly exist as one of the following: polyethylene terephthalate or PET (found in bottled water and jars), high-density polyethylene or HDPE (found in snack boxes, toys), polyvinyl chloride or PVC (used in credit cards and pipes), low-density polyethylene (used in films and wraps) and polypropylene (found in straws and lunch boxes).
In India, there are no formal ways to segregate plastic waste. Most of the sorting is done by ragpickers who sell it to kabariwalas, who further sell it to reprocessing units. There is a plan by the city administration in Gurugram to create plastic collection centres from citizens where plastic waste will be bought at ₹10 per kg.
PET and HDPE are most commonly and easily recycled. However, recycling is cost-intensive and also the quality of recycled product decreases with every processing cycle. Besides, all plastic is not recyclable. There is now a rising demand to produce only biodegradable plastic or that plastic that can be recycled easily.
But the best way to fight plastic pollution is by reducing the consumption of plastic. Here, the role of citizens is paramount. Simple behavioural or lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing usage. Carry your own shopping bag. Stop buying bottled water and carry your own metal water bottles. Carry your own containers for buying meat, etc. You can take your own thermos to coffee shops. Glass jars can replace plastic containers. Newspapers or biodegradable liners can replace waste-liners. You can stop using straws easily. You can also avoid using plastic cutlery at events
At the national level, the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 have created frameworks for better management of plastic waste. It has increased minimum thickness of plastic bags, expanded the jurisdiction of the law to rural areas, allocated responsibility of producers and brand owners to take back plastic waste under Extended Producers’ Responsibility, and revamped pricing under the plastic waste management fee for importers of plastic bags or street vendors for selling the same.
While these rules will guide sustainable management of plastic at the macro level, we must not forget that ‘reduction in use’ is the easiest and the most natural ways of curbing plastic pollution. Unless each one of us makes informed choices in our daily life, this menace is here to stay.
May 28, 2019 02:29 IST
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