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PLANET VS PLASTIC | Saving the Planet

How as a commoner should I contribute to improve the environment
12:26 AM May 04, 2024 IST | SHOWKET AKHOON
planet vs plastic   saving the planet
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When in school, listened to the song “Panchi Nadiya Pawan kay Jhonkhe, koi Sarhad Na Inhe Rooke” from Bollywood movie ‘Refugee (2000)’, the timeless lyrics by Javaid Akhter. Then took it as a romantic number expressing grief of separation. But waking up to ramifications of climate crises now, I understand how universal are the contours of these immortal lines. As is said and we all know air molecules don’t have to carry passports to move around the earth, water molecules through water table go to ocean and travel world.

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Therefore, we are not isolated in this, the issues of planet are not local. Without bombardment of data regarding carbon footprint, ecological footprint, water footprint and invoking hard core environmental science or environmental chemistry is it that difficult to assess the effect of anthropogenic or naturogenic activities on earth’s environment. How as a commoner should I contribute to improve environment. We have read, said and listened about environment, its deterioration causes and effects. How can we be the part of solution keeping in view sustainable development goals?

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Plastic Waste is one of the biggest issues facing the planet today, it is omnipresent, it is seen polluting lofty mountains to deepest ocean trenches, its impact is stretching far and wide. It effects human health, destroys ecosystems, and harms wildlife-marine species in particular. World over humans are producing more than 350 million metric tons of plastic waste per year.

Plastic waste generated per person varies from 221 kg in the USA and 114 kg in European OECD countries to 69 kg on average for Japan and Korea. As per the plastic overshoot day report by Swiss non-profit EA Earth Action twelve countries are responsible for 60 per cent of the world’s mismanaged plastic waste: China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Vietnam, Iran, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, The United States and Turkey,”

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Per capita plastic waste production in India is among the lowest at 8 kg, but given huge population size of India exceeding 1.4 billion, this is significant. India’s expected mismanaged waste in 2024 will be 7.4 million tons, which is “very high”. India’s worry is mismanagement of plastic waste. India ranked fourth in MWI (waste makers index) 2023 with 98.55 per cent of generated waste being mismanaged. Global plastic recycling rates, particularly in developing countries, are usually poor- as low as 15 per cent. India generates plastic waste of 26000 tonnes daily, 62 million tonnes of waste annually, with 70 per cent collected, and only 12 million tonnes treated, while 31 million tonnes end up in landfills.

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The generation of municipal solid waste is expected to rise to 165 million tonnes by 2030 due to changing consumption patterns and rapid economic growth. India had committed to phase out single-use plastics (SUP) by 2022, three years later, while some progress has been made with the ban on selected SUP items, challenges persist.

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Single-use plastics refers to a “plastic item intended to be used once for the same purpose before being disposed of or recycle”. This waste, predominantly single-use in nature, is dumped or even burnt at roadsides, choking drains and flowing into the rivers from where it disperses into the ocean, harming marine life directly or indirectly as it degrades into micro- and nano-sized particles over months, years and decades.

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On the current trajectory of production, it has been projected that single-use plastic could account for 5-10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The thriving street food sector across India depends heavily on single-use plastics such as plates, bowls, cups, and containers. Single-use plastic has among the highest shares of plastic manufactured and used from packaging of items to bottles (shampoo, detergents, cosmetics), polythene bags, face masks, coffee cups, cling film, trash bags, food packaging etc. Despite their affordability, these items contribute significantly to the country’s waste management challenge.

Adopting a reusable packaging system in India’s street food sector presents a win-win solution, benefiting all stakeholders and paving the way for a more resilient and sustainable future for Indian cities. one of the major hurdles in phasing out single-use plastics is the limited availability of viable alternatives. While there are some alternatives available, they may not be cost-effective, convenient, or widely accessible, making it difficult for consumers and businesses to switch from single-use plastics.

Lack of necessary infrastructure for proper waste management is leading to plastic pollution and environmental degradation. Policy and regulation hold the key in the fight against plastic, while some governments have implemented regulations to restrict the use of single-use plastics, enforcement and compliance can be challenging.

There may also be resistance from industries that rely on single-use plastics, as well as from consumers who are accustomed to their convenience. In some cases, bans or restrictions on single-use plastics may have unintended consequences for livelihoods, particularly for those employed in industries that rely on the production or sale of single-use plastics. These things have to be taken in consideration.

These people should be employed in the units where these plastics will be treated and recycled. Carry bags irrespective of thickness should be banned. This has been done successfully in countries that are weaker economies than India such as various East African countries, for example, Tanzania and Rwanda.

The Indian state of Himachal Pradesh through its Non-biodegradable Garbage Control Act of 1998 has completely banned the production, distribution, storage and use of carry bags. This is not just a policy on paper but has been implemented at scale in the entire state of Himachal Pradesh. As of July 2019. In 2021, a village in Manipur, Saihenjang, was declared a ‘plastic free village’, after the locals toiled for three years to free their neighbourhood from plastic.

68 countries have plastic bag bans with varying degrees of enforcement. Bangladesh became the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002. New Zealand became the latest country to ban plastic bags in July 2019. China: China issued a ban on plastic bags in 2020 with phased implementation. US: Eight states in the US have banned single-use plastic bags, beginning with California in 2014. Seattle became the first major US city to ban plastic straws in 2018. European Union (EU): In July, 2021, the Directive on Single-Use Plastics took effect in the EU.

The directive bans certain single-use plastics for which alternatives are available, single-use plastic plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton buds cannot be placed on the markets of the EU member states. The same measure applies to cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene, and all products made of oxo degradable plastic.

Conclusion

Without changes to current policies, global plastic waste generation is projected to triple by 2060, to a staggering one billion metric tons as per the report by organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This production is driven by economic growth and an expanding population.

The largest increases are expected in emerging economies in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. As per OECD even if stringent action mechanism is put in place to cut demand and improve efficiencies, plastic production is set to double in less than 40 years. India’s battle against single-use plastics demands a concerted effort from policymakers, industry stakeholders, and citizens alike. While strides have been made, gaps in enforcement, awareness, and infrastructure persist.

By embracing sustainable solutions and prioritizing proactive measures, India can mitigate the adverse impacts of single- use plastics and pave the way for a cleaner, greener future. Having said it all, as conscious citizens we can become the part of solution by following the maxim of 3Rs Reduce consumption, Reuse as much as we can. For the recycle part we can only look up to the policy makers who by policy push can ensure organised recycling by creating state of art infrastructure.

Institutional stakeholders must shoulder the onus of ensuring plastic is produced, collected, recycled and reprocessed responsibly. For example, plastic waste could be recycled into granules and used for making outdoor furniture, door and window panels, road dividers, etc. There should be efforts for transforming plastic waste into environmental currency. From our politicians, we have not heard anyone talking about environment especially in the ecologically fragile Jammu and Kashmir.

There should be a policy to phase out single use plastics from J&K to save our water bodies, meadows and agricultural lands from plastic wastes. On these days through various events, toolkits and initiatives we aim to raise awareness, inspire change and foster a deeper connection with nature and natural resources.

These days serve as a reminder for us to play our part in the larger global Coordinated efforts to protect the planet from human made disasters. Because we have only one earth to live on and we can’t escape it. Till the time we discover some better place to live in this universe and for building new colonies there, let’s maintain, renovate and decorate the planet we live on. Let’s pledge to protect the earth today and for generations to come. Let’s not deteriorate it, let’s not abandon it.

Showket Akhoon, Lecturer in Chemistry, Department of School Education, JK.

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