- Efforts are on around the world, to mitigate impacts of plastic pollution.
- According to UN estimates, every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags. Half of the total plastic used is single-use or disposable items such as grocery bags, cutlery and straws.
- India generates about 15,342 tons of plastic waste per day (TPD).
India has been chosen as the global host of the World Environment Day, that will focus on galvanising greater action against single-use plastic pollution on June 5 this year, by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, now also known as UN Environment). After demonstrating global leadership on climate change, India will lead the charge on ‘Beat plastic pollution’, the theme for World Environment 2018.
According to UN estimates, every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags while half of the plastic used is of single use or in disposable items such as grocery bags, cutlery and straws. Each year, at least eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute.
Efforts are on around the world, to mitigate impacts of plastic pollution. China recently moved to ban the import of 24 types of solid waste including plastic. Britain’s 25-year environment plan launched by Prime Minister Theresa May this January has a specific target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by 2042.
Norway not only recycles all of its plastic, it also imports waste from other countries to run its waste-to-energy incineration plants.
A recent study has revealed a decline in plastic bags on the seabed off the coast of Britain, pointing out that measures to tackle waste are working. However, the overall amount of plastic litter stayed the same.
The theme for this year’s World Environment Day, ‘Beat plastic pollution’, urges governments, industry, communities and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health.
Asserting India’s commitment to ‘green social responsibility’, Harsh Vardhan, India’s environment minister, said that Indian philosophy and lifestyle has long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. “If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our green social responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet,” the minister said.
The Indian government has committed to organising and promoting the World Environment Day celebrations through a series of engaging activities and events generating strong public interest and participation. From pan-Indian plastic clean-up drives in public areas, national reserves and forests to simultaneous beach clean-up activities – India will lead the initiative by setting an example.
Erik Solheim, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Head of UN Environment, dubbed plastic pollution “a global emergency affecting every aspect of our lives.”
“It’s in the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s destroying our beaches and oceans. India will now be leading the push to save our oceans and planet.”
India’s struggle with plastic
In India, 70 percent of total plastic consumption is discarded as waste. Around 5.6 million tonnes per annum (TPA) of plastic waste is generated in country, which is about 15,342 tonnes per day (TPD).
Government data shows that 17 states and union territories have imposed complete ban on manufacture, sale and use of plastic carry bags, but there is “no proposal to impose ban on the use of polythene bags completely throughout the country”.
Maharashtra, India’s second most populous state, which produces plastic products worth Rs. 500 billion , notified a state-wide a ban on most single-use plastics in April this year.
India’s capital city of Delhi introduced a ban on disposable plastics last year.
The use of plastic carry bags has been partially banned in some pilgrimage centres, tourist and historical places located in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The government has notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, which regulate manufacture, sale, distribution and use of plastic carry bags including those of compostable plastic, and plastic sheets for packaging or wrapping applications.
Naysan Sahba, director of UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information, says as hosts to this year’s World Environment Day, Indian communities large and small will lead a global charge to beat plastic pollution through civic engagement and celebration.
“With support from an inspiring cross section of Indian society, ranging from cricket pitches to board rooms, we’re witnessing an unprecedented national commitment to this global cause with the potential to make this the largest and most consequential World Environment Day ever,” Sahba told Mongabay-India.
Conservation and development specialist Balakrishna Pisupati said India hosting the June 5 event sends a strong signal to the world that it wants to take up certain leadership roles in environment management including combating plastic pollution.
“But we have to walk the talk. We need to have policies in place, public actions in place and we have to look at plastics in different ecosystems. India should seize this opportunity to tell the world that it is prepared to deal with these challenges and in that context what India would need to do is plan how it engages with states, individuals, academia, industry in terms of the entire dimension of plastic pollution,” Pisupati said.
For sustained efforts, the country should have a larger perspective on plastics and not see the entire thing as a waste management element, he said.
“To a large extent in India, plastics management is seen more as a waste management rather than generation of plastics. If India wants to continue with this type of leadership, it has to plan what it needs to do in the next three years, five years or ten years time,” Pisupati explained.
Pisupati batted for co-ordinated action between states and the Centre.
“It should come up concrete guidelines on use, recycling and disposal of plastic. There should be clear guidelines to implement actions, including targets and deadlines. It should have a much larger network of people who can come up with innovative solutions to manage this particular problem. And more awareness campaigns to sustain the momentum,” he added.