Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Plastic ban

The ban on plastics imposed by the government may be a good choice in keeping with the global demands of stepping up green politics to meet the challenge of global warming. Plastics and polythenes have been one of the worst contributors of polluting the environment and choking the water bodies in the last few decades and need to be challenged. In that respect, the state government has taken the right initiative. But making good choices may not necessarily mean that it is thinking right too. The simple imposition of a ban on polythenes is meaningless unless the government is committed to understand the all pervasive nature of the plastics in modern day life as well as have the ability to implement the ban in a sustained manner. While the focus on the latter is missing, it would be insignificant as long as the basic understanding of how polythenes are coming into circulation and understanding scientific ways to deal with it. So far, the ban is more a case of muscle flexing and predicated on selective knowledge, deliberately so or out of callousness. It completely skirts the massive and now indispensable presence of plastics and polythenes in modern times. Right from packaging to the use of mineral water, cold drinks and snacks, everything is packaged in plastics, whether it is being bought from markets outside the state or manufactured in Nagaland. Merely by announcing a ban on polythene carry bags, riddled as it with ambiguity, would thus not be enough. The manufacturing sector is not only encouraging the use of plastics in packages but the industry producing low grade polythene bags is also thriving. As long as that exists, it is futile expecting that the circulation of plastics will stop with mere announcement. The government needs to take into account how the plastics can first be reduced at the manufacturing stage and be in a position to offer suitable alternatives to users and promoters of plastics. Cracking the whip without addressing these important questions would have deleterious effects on the economy which is already in a state of fragility. It has also to be borne in mind that voluntary efforts of some individuals and communities in various parts of the country, including here, cannot be considered as an adequate response to the crisis created by modernisation around the world. It is worth noting that some of the voluntary groups are far ahead of the governments and civic bodies in creating awareness about the crisis. These individuals and volunteers segregate waste, compost at home, conduct “plastic free” social events and help recover materials that would otherwise just be dumped in the suburbs and wetlands. But voluntary efforts cannot achieve what systematic reforms can. It is incumbent on the government to ensure that the ban is implemented in letter and spirit. It is unfortunate that local bodies mandated under rules to ensure segregation, collection and transfer of waste to registered recyclers have miserably failed to fulfil their responsibilities. The monitoring committees at the state level provided for under the rules have not been made accountable. As far as the use of plastics by ordinary citizens including shop keepers and customers, a genuine awareness drive through community leaders, educational institutions and work-places needs to be carried out on a massive footing to educate people about the harmful impact of plastics. People’s involvement and participation on use of plastics is crucial if the battle against plastics has to be taken to its logical conclusion. This is also one of the important steps towards implementation of polythene bans, which also requires an adequate system of accountability and penalization. Community based involvement and an effective as well as responsive system of implementation will make a huge deal of difference to reducing the use of plastics in the State. The government must at the same time also think of ways in which unwanted plastics can be recycled – an area that can also be economically rejuvenating and help boost employment. In a nutshell, a holistic assessment of the problem and a well formulated strategy is the need of the time. Cosmetic efforts like the present one are a mere waste of time.