Back EPW -

Mounting Plastic Waste

Despite frequent bans on the use of plastic, the move has not received a firm and determined response.

Why plastics ban in India did not succeed much?

1. India was to be made plastic pollution-free by 2022, but a blanket ban on single-use plastic was held off.

2. This measure was expected to cause further disruption in the economy that is already facing a slowdown, as it could lead to a closure of industrial units and affect the consumer firms.

3. The basic groundwork for the plastic ban was missing.

4. There is a lack of clarity on the definition of single-use plastic, with no guidelines issued regarding its usage or any clear plans forwarded to stop the usage or to provide for alternatives.

5. Individual bans in different states have failed to provide an effective solution.

6. There is a need for phasing out the problematic plastics that cannot be recycled.

How is plastic turning into waste?

1. Most single-use plastic products are consumed and discarded within a few minutes of their use.

2. E-commerce giants and packaged food item companies are major users of such plastic.

3. Around 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India every day.

4. Of this, nearly 40% is neither collected nor recycled.

5. It ends up either polluting water, clogging drains, or contaminating the soil.

6. Standards for safe plastic packaging are not maintained in India.

7. Companies in India prefer importing plastic, despite import bans, as it is cheaper than collecting and recycling locally generated waste.

What are the ill-effects of plastic pollution? 

1. Plastic pollution is so widespread as it has reached the deepest of oceans and remotest polar regions affecting the environment and the species.

2. Humans are ingesting about 250 pieces of microplastic per day or plastic equivalent to a credit card in a week.

3. Such microplastic is generated from the breakdown of mismanaged plastic waste and is also directly released as microbeads in facial wash or toothpaste.

4. The main source of the ingestion of microplastic is tap and bottled water.

5. In medical use, plastic is considered safe and clean, even though there are reports indicating that plastic bottles contaminate the medicines stored in them.

Which issues need immediate attention?

1. Use of plastic has become part of a culture in which those who consume and litter do not find themselves responsible for cleaning.

2. These are reflected in the festering garbage in the overspilling landfill sites.

3. Such garbage dumps are emerging as a serious threat to life.

4. The leachates in the mixed and untreated waste contaminate water and cause carcinogenic pollution when it is set to fire.

5. Even recycling trade work has moved the toxic waste and polluting factories to the lands and hands of the poor.

Where lies the solution?

1. Segregation at the source is the key to make recycling viable.

2. Most municipalities are struggling to implement existing plastic and solid waste regulations.

3. In the absence of proper waste management, degraded and dirty plastic makes recycling more expensive, unsafe, and water-intensive.

4. Multilayered plastics used in most food packaging are difficult to recycle and a mandatory collect-back system needs to be ensured by effective implementation of extended producer responsibility.

5. There is also a need to further develop the recycling technologies and processing methods, as most of the plastic in India is downcycled, which means PET (polyethylene terephthalate) gets recycled into a low-quality product.

6. A circular plastics economy is possible only to an extent, as recycling has its limits and can be carried out for the same plastic only a few times.

7. Bioplastics made out of plant material or even areca bio plates are not easily biodegradable if littered in the open environment.

8. More use of paper and cloth bags and checking the throwaway culture can address the issue to some extent.