Monday, Jun 27, 2022 05:15 [IST]
Last Update: Monday, Jun 27, 2022 23:42 [IST]
It is undeniable that plastics are alarmingly ubiquitous, and it is also an unfortunate fact that they present a colossal threat to the ecology. Nations across the world are fighting the menace through policy making. While global entities are brainstorming on ways to deal with the worldwide plastic nuisance, countries are also figuring out their own ways to deal with the menace within their borders.
Earlier this year, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Singh Yadav revealed that India generates 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, of which 14 million tonnes end up in the ocean. A 2021 report by one of the Australian philanthropic organisations the Minderoo Foundation said single-use plastics account for a third of all plastic produced globally, with 98% manufactured from fossil fuels. Single-use plastic also accounts for the majority of plastic discarded – 130 million metric tonnes globally in 2019 — “all of which is burned, buried in landfills or discarded directly into the environment”, the report said. The report found that India features in the top 100 countries of single-use plastic waste generation – at rank 94 (the top three being Singapore, Australia and Oman. With domestic production of 11.8 million metric tonnes annually, and import of 2.9 MMT, India’s net generation of single-use plastic waste is 5.6 MMT, and per capita generation is 4 kg.
So, come July 1, 2022, India will implement a nationwide ban on all single-use plastic (SUP). Notifying the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has prohibited the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene (Thermocol) for decoration; plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packaging films around sweet boxes, invitation cards, and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron, stirrers. In short, it encompasses SUP items with low utility and high littering potential.
The enemy is not that plastic exists per se, but that plastic exists in the environment. When plastic remains in the environment for long periods of time and does not decay, it turns into microplastics – first entering our food sources and then the human body, and this is extremely harmful. These items banned are those which are difficult to collect, especially since most are either small, or discarded directly into the environment – like ice-cream sticks. It then becomes difficult to collect for recycling, unlike the much larger items.
While researchers, experts and environmentalists feel that bans work, they added that it is only to an extent. Just confiscating the materials from the retail units is not going to help. And in this context, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) prepared a comprehensive action plan to eliminate manufacturing, stocking and selling, which is a step in the right direction. They have issued letters to large manufacturers, e-commerce companies, and large suppliers. However, it remains to be seen if this covers the entire ecosystem since that ambit falls within the purview of individual states. We also need a more comprehensive plan for stopping production and import of plastics. Citizens are aware of the plastic menace, but we have to aim for behavioural change communication.