Plastic problem

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India appears to have faltered in formulating a clear policy and check pollution caused by waste plastic and polythene bags that have been used indiscriminately in delivering articles to the consumers during the past few decades. Unfortunately, lack of planning also resulted in huge and unmanageable heaps of garbage that form mainly from the plastic and polythene bags discarded by the consumers after one use or so. Though there have been calls to promote reuse and recycling of such waste material but the infrastructure required for this purpose is neither installed nor being put in place in the next few years. This is the situation in metropolitan cities, the situation in smaller towns where the plastics and polythene packaged consumers have reached is worse. The problems caused by use of such discarded plastics and polythene bags have multiplied over the years with none of the civic authorities having bothered to look for alternatives and discourage their use. Creating awareness among the consumers is not a small step that be taken in a matter of few weeks or months because already piled garbage is posing a serious challenge to the policy makers and the environment. The pollution caused by such waste material is also seeping into every aspect of life including the natural habitat of wildlife and marine creatures. Traces of micro particles of plastics and polythene have been found in fish and other marine creatures harvested for meeting food requirements across the world. The plastics and polythene bags are threatening the marine and wildlife on this planet. The challenges posed by such waste material is playing havoc with the fragile ecology in the Himalayan belt of the country, which are host to numerous water sources making life dependent on them in the plains of the country. Despite repeated pleas of the concerned authorities to discourage use of plastics and polythene in the hilly areas, the situation continues to be grim and poses a big challenge to those concerned about environment. The water sources have also been polluted and choked due to discarded plastic and polythene bags finding their way into them. In some cases, both the waste materials are taking a heavy toll of the animals in both urban and rural areas. No remedial measures appear to have been initiated by authorities to check this menace. Recently, Maharashtra’s ban on several consumer articles made of plastic, enforced after a three-month notice to industry and users, is an extreme measure. It has become disruptive, and Mumbai, famed for its resilience in the face of urban challenges, is trying to adapt quickly. Today, stemming the plastic tide is a national imperative. India hosted this year’s World Environment Day and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a high-profile pledge, to international acclaim, that it would do away with all single-use plastics in the next four years. This goal set for this purpose is not backed by an action plan so that state governments and local bodies can be in synchronization. The problem has already gone out of hand, with only 9 percent of about nine billion tonnes of plastic produced getting recycled. India has an uninspiring record when it comes to handling waste. It has sketchy data on volumes, and even less on what it recycles. This lackadaisical approach appears to be at odds with its ambitious goals. Quite simply, if the centre and the states had got down to dealing with the existing regulations on plastic waste management and municipal solid waste, a ban would not even have become necessary. The recycling specifications have not been adhered to by the concerned authorities. Priority has to be given to stop the generation of mixed waste, which prevents recovery of plastics. Retailers must be required to switch to paper bags. Carry bag production using cloth can create more jobs than machines using plastic pellets. It has to be taken note of that plastics became popular because they are inexpensive, can be easily produced and offer great convenience. But, as the UN Environment Programme notes, their wild popularity has turned them into a scourge for humanity across the world. Consumers will be ready to make the switch, but they need good alternatives for this purpose.