Singling Out The Single–Use Plastics


In on one of the most ambitious proposals ever, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his country will ban the use of the single-use plastics by 2022, beginning with an immediate ban in the urban parts of Delhi. This, if implemented, would be one of the most courageous, most revolutionary decision to fight the problems posed by the use of plastics.

While the per capita consumption of plastic in India is much lower than many other countries across the world, India’s gigantic population and the growing economy still poses a challenge to many of the nation’s pledges to reduce the environmental degradation and pollution. While such a bold move is one of its kind, little is known about how the government plans to implement these proposals. While taxation and fines are the most widely used mechanisms across the world to control the production of unfavorable goods, it is still unknown how well Indian law and enforcement agencies do to control such public menace.

Following the announcement made by Indian prime minister, several world leaders and global agencies, including United Nations came up with words of praise. In India, we often do have wonderful laws. The problem comes with the fact that seldom we respect those laws or try to implement them to the fullest.

Whether India will be able to go free of single-use plastic by 2022 will solely depend on the courage and willingness of the authorities here to implement these laws and the ability of the general public to respond to such policies positively without any resistance.

What is the Concern of the Hour?

There are broadly two types of plastics that we use in our day to day lives- one is the recyclable plastics, which have several applications and can be recycled efficiently after use and the other includes disposable or non-recyclable plastics, the ones which are used and cannot be recycled. Disposable plastics are largely meant for the single-use and thus, they are comparatively of lower quality. Since they are cheaper compared to their recyclable counterparts, they are often favorites for the manufacturers who produce cheap, economic goods that are meant for a one-time use only. Good examples of single-use plastics include the straws, mineral water bottles, parts of the pen, packing tape etc. Most of these items cannot be reused and have to be thrown away. This often becomes problematic as the plastic waste thus generated would often end up in landfills or often into the soil, water bodies etc.

It is estimated that India produces more than 150 million tonnes of disposable or single-use plastics per year and thus, it is a matter of concern in the country. India was the host for the 2018 World Environment Day and the theme for this year was “Beat the Plastic Pollution”. However, being a country which is home to more than 1.3 billion people and the fact that India’s per capita consumption of plastic is increasing annually, there is a lot to be done before the nation actually beats plastics.

Existing Laws in India

Like in any other case, India has amazing laws in place to prevent the pollution resulting from the mismanagement of plastics and plastic-based products. However, what is observed that often these laws fail to support the enforcement of management of plastic wastes. As mentioned earlier, the per capita consumption of plastics in the country currently stands at 11 Kg/ year. However, this is expected to increase to 20 Kg/ year by 2022. Given this statistic, it is highly important to know what are the laws in place and how effective have they been.

One of the first regulations to manage the plastic and the plastic waste came in 1999 as ‘Recycled Plastic Management and Usage Rules’. Later in the year 2011, a new set of regulations saw the light of the day as the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011. However, most of the time, what we saw in practice was that these laws remained largely unimplemented and the usage of plastics continued as ever before. The law remained on paper and the practice of using plastics continued.

What are the Solutions?

It is estimated that more than 43% of the total plastic wastes accumulated each year in the country comes from packaging material. This means that nearly half of the plastic waste can be avoided if we implement certain changes in the way goods are packed and moved across the country. According to several experts, the answer lies in using jute. India for several centuries continues to be the global leader when it comes to the jute and jute-based products. While jute has been used traditionally as a packing substance, the period following the independence saw the replacement of jute with plastic in many sectors. Traditionally, our country had the system where the jute bags were by at-large used in the packaging of food grains, other goods etc. However, today plastic has dominated nearly every domain of human life. Imagine the possibilities that jute can offer if we are stern enough to replace plastic with eco-friendly materials like jute.

Another problem that the country faces in the effective management of the plastic waste is that a majority of the plastic waste generated in the country is still managed by the informal sector. The informal sector, in turn, makes use of the unscientific methods of collection and management of plastic waste, leading to a situation where the waste management itself can ‘pollute’ the environment. The government can also work with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to tackle the plastic menace by training and funding these agencies.

India aspires to be one of the most developed nations in the world in the coming decades. However, this development must not just come in the form of monetary progress but also in every aspect, including a healthy environment to live.

Picture Credits: World Economic

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