Monday, May 10, 2021

Plastics crisis 

The central government does not appear to be serious in tackling the problem of plastic and polythene waste management, which has become a major pollutant in India and is overflowing in the water sources including rivers and ocean. Being a major producer of plastic and allied waste that is further polluting the water sources, India was the best place to act as host for World Environment Day. A central government minister in one of his speeches said that his government means business and the United Nations theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution”, will not remain an empty slogan. The minister’s claim would have inspired confidence had India taken its own rules on waste management seriously. Both the Solid Waste Management Rules and the Plastic Waste Management Rules of 2016, which built on previous guidelines and regulations, mostly remain on paper. The centre is yet to prepare a framework for discouraging the use of plastic and polythene in packing of materials sold in the retail markets besides food products. The state governments across the country have not given them the necessary momentum, and the producers of plastic articles that are invariably used just for a few minutes have shown little concern about their negative environmental impact. The central government rough estimates show over 60 percent of about 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily is collected through non-institutionalised means. That essentially means a staggering 10,000 tonnes of trash is being released into the environment, a lot of it going into the ocean. Moreover, it is worth noting that most of the pieces of plastic and polythene collected by the system are scientifically processed. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river system is on the UN map of 10 rivers worldwide that collectively carry the bulk of the plastic waste into the oceans. The effects are evident: they threaten marine life and the well-being of people, as micro-plastics are now found even in drinking water. Unfortunately no research has been conducted on the plastic waste being consumed by the fish and other marine creatures, which have become victims of the high pollution in the water sources. In some of the countries in Europe, it has been pointed out that micro-plastic and polythene fibre has been found in the fish and other marine creatures during the past few years. The plastic waste has reached depths of 5000 feet below the sea-level in most of the coastal areas of the ocean. So it is being considered as an alarming sign for the countries in European Union region and calls for remedial measures to check this pollutant. In the present scenario, it has to be borne in mind that voluntary efforts of some individuals and communities in various parts of the country cannot be considered as an adequate response to the crisis crated 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 central government to ensure that the Environment (Protection) Act, the overarching law that enables anti-pollution rules to be issued, is implemented in letter and spirit. Ideally, regulation should help stop the manufacture of single-use plastic articles such as carry bags and cutlery, and encourage the use of biodegradable materials. There is a real challenge. The provisions of the Plastic Waste Management Rules require manufacturers of compostable bags to get a certificate from the Central Pollution Control Board, but this has not stopped counterfeit products from entering the market. Local bodies mandated under rules to ensure segregation, collection and transfer of waste to registered recyclers have miserably failed to fulfil their responsibilities during the past one decade or so. The Monitoring Committees at the state level provided for under the rules have not been made accountable. The waste