Per capita consumption of plastic in India is estimated to jump from the current 11 kg per person(in a year) to 22 kg per person by the mid 2020’s. Plastic waste is growing at an alarming pace in the country being seen everywhere be it roads, railway tracks, rivers and other places.
Dr. Shyamala Mani is a Professor at the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) she explains the magnitude of the problem “90% of the floating debris in the oceans is plastic! Plastic use has grown exponentially reaching 335 million tons in 2016. It is plastic that clogs most of the water bodies in India it decomposes to release toxins into the water.”
She points out that even the recycling process poses health challenges “Plastic is a big health hazard not only for the consumers but also for those involved in the recycling process. Most of the recycling is done in the informal sector without taking any sort of precautions; they put all kinds of plastic into a single pot melt and remold these which releases harmful gases polluting the air. E waste is another challenge as these contain a lot of plastic which are laden with flame retardants that are extremely toxic, these retardants are banned in several European countries.”
Suneel Pandey the Director of Environment and Waste Management Division, TERI says that there is a limit to how many times plastic can be recycled and urges consumers to be more vigilant while using plastic “In India 60% of the plastic in use is being recycled, plastic’s contain colours, stabilizers which leak out every time these are recycled their quality goes down and there comes a point where it is no longer economical to recycle these. Faulty consumption practices also accentuate the health risks of plastics- see how hot tea is being carried in plastic bags.”
He suggests that it should be ensured that no pigment is used in plastics for packaging, foodstuffs should never be packed in recycled plastics and recyclable plastic should chiefly be used for road construction.
Preeti Mahesh, the Chief Programme Coordinator of ‘Toxics Link’ favors strong public awareness initiative like the one which has been adopted in regard to smoking for bringing about a shift from plastic to more sustainable resources “Even bottled water has been found to contain micro plastics hence money spent for health too is contributing to ill health. In fact it is health considerations which could act as the biggest incentive for people to give up the use of plastic.”
Ravi Aggarwal, Chairman, Environment Committee of the All India Plastic Industries Association states that plastics per se do not pollute but the problem lies in the faulty disposal practices and emphasizes on segregation. “A McKenzie study is on record stating that plastic gives the lowest carbon footprint. Whether plastic is a boon or a bane depends on the disposal practices and the ability or inability to segregate. As of now per capita plastic consumption in India stands at 11 kg in a year compared to 40 kg of per capita consumption in the developed world if they can manage why can’t we – the key is proper segregation” says Aggarwal. He further emphasizes the importance of segregation by the consumers “there is this much publicized problem of cows consuming plastic; left to themselves no animal would eat plastic but it ends up in their stomach because they eat kitchen waste which is thrown out by the households wrapped in plastic, if they had segregated organic waste then this problem would not have arisen.”
Aggarwal also underlines the importance of the municipality efficiently performing its role “If mountains of waste are allowed to grow then is it not due to the negligence of the municipality. If plastic blocks the drains then the Safai karamcharis should be questioned because plastic is one waste which has high economic value hence is first to be picked from all the MSW.”
He favors of incentivizing plastic waste collection “Schemes such as one pouch free for every 10 waste pouches of gutkha, pan masala can be adopted so as to encourage reuse and curb single use of plastics”.
· Single-use plastics such as PET(Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags and caps produced in FMCG and retail are four of the top five pollutants of the ocean as per the International Coastal Clean Up report released in 2017.
· Just about 7% of these single use bottles get recycled, while the rest 93% are thrown away as plastic litter in our oceans, and on land.
· Over 700 marine species like fish, birds and reptiles, have been affected by ocean plastic 56% of whale and dolphin species have been observed ingesting plastic.