DR Ambedkar IAS Academy

The Big Picture: Eliminating Single Use Plastic

Government of India has laid great emphasis on eradicating single use plastic which has become one of the biggest sources of pollution.

During Independence Day Speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the people to take a pledge on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Anniversary on 2nd October to make the country free of single use plastic.

What is Single Use Plastic?

Single-use plastics, also referred as disposable plastics, are commonly used for plastic packaging and intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These include grocery (polythene) bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups, cutlery etc.

Plastic is so cheap and convenient that it has replaced all other materials from the packaging industry but it takes hundreds of years to disintegrate.

It is a huge problem. If we look at the data, out of 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste generated every year in our country, 43% is single use plastic.

Focus is on the litter prone single use plastic like polythene carry bags, disposable cutlery. All packaging including food packaging are kept out of focus for the time being because there is no alternative for them yet.

Being consumer societies, we consume plastics and put it out on the road. 40% of the uncollected trash stays on the road, goes into water bodies where it leeches out the harmful chemicals and clogs the waterways.

India’s per capita plastic consumption is 11 kilogrammes compared to the United States, which is the world’s highest at 109 kilogrammes, according to figures released by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in 2017.

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI)

Established in 1927, FICCI is the largest and oldest apex business organisation in India.

It is a non-government, not-for-profit organisation.

It provides a platform for networking and consensus building within and across sectors and is the first port of call for Indian industry, policy makers and the international business community.

What are the challenges?

Low value: These are low value plastics so waste pickers do not collect them and they remain uncollected and littered.

Visibility: Plastic waste is about 8-10% of the total municipal solid waste and just 4% at the landfill sites because all the good plastic is picked up. Single use plastic is just about 10-15% of that 4%, still they can be seen everywhere so it appears to be huge.

Collection: Single use plastics largely remains uncollected. If collected cleanly then there are scopes of recycling or energy recovery (in case of thermoplastics specifically) but that is not the case.

Inadequacy of data: We do not have data about the quantity of the plastic littering our roads.

Non-biodegradable: The non-biodegradable nature of plastic adds to the issue as it will never truly disappear, instead it breaks into microplastics and gets into the ecological cycles.

Dysfunctional systems: Our municipal corporations are dysfunctional and at loggerheads with the state governments for resources and funding. They are unable to collect both data on plastic and the litter itself.

Unorganised labour: In plastic collection, mostly unorganised labour is involved without any kind of proper machinery or assorting units.

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