Tackling plastic pollution: A call to action for India

In the wake of World environment Day, it is crucial to tackle the menace of single-use plastics. The expansion of plastic waste poses a grave threat to our planet, imperilling ecosystems both on land and at sea. Let’s take the initiative to cultivate healthy habits towards nature from our homes. While moving mountains may seem daunting, starting with self-care can pave the way for a more effective and manageable journey to combat the disasters caused by plastics. Collective action is crucial for environmental sustainability, with education and awareness as the key factors. The scale of the problem:
Plastic pollution has reached alarming levels, causing devastating consequences for the environment. From clogging waterways to threatening marine life, the pervasive presence of plastic waste demands immediate action. Earth Day serves as a poignant reminder of our responsibility to safeguard the planet for future generations. Education and awareness emerge as powerful tools in combating the plastic plague, enabling individuals to make informed decisions and adopt sustainable practices.India‘s contribution:
India stands as a significant contributor to global single-use plastic waste. The Plastic Waste Makers Index 2019 report reveals that India ranks third globally, contributing a staggering 5.5 million tonnes of single-use plastic waste annually. However, the mismanagement of plastic waste remains a critical issue, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlighting that India fails to manage 85% of its plastic waste effectively. This type of waste is mainly single-use and is often disposed of improperly by being dumped or burned on roadsides. This results in clogged drains and waterways, eventually finding its way into the ocean, where marine life is harmed directly or indirectly. As plastic degrades into micro and nano-sized particles over time, it creates long-lasting environmental damage. Mismanagement of plastic waste leads to severe ecological degradation, with plastic waste infiltrating our rivers and oceans and putting marine life and ecosystems in danger.

Government initiatives:
To address this pressing issue, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) issued a Comprehensive Action Plan in February 2022, directing State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) to phase out single-use plastics. The plan encompasses supply-side interventions, and demand-side interventions, creating an enabling environment for phasing out single-use plastics and managing legacy waste. The CPCB has also implemented online platforms for compliance monitoring and grievance redressal, emphasising the importance of effective regulation and enforcement.

The human impact:
Plastic has become deeply ingrained in our daily lives, with approximately 60% of clothing materials composed of plastic. The fishing industry contributes around 45,000 tonnes of plastic waste to our oceans yearly. Moreover, plastic plays a crucial role in agriculture, from seed coatings to irrigation systems. However, the OECD’s Global Plastics Outlook report underscores the alarming scale of plastic pollution, with millions of tonnes of plastic waste infiltrating aquatic environments each year, posing a grave threat to marine ecosystems.

Regional disparities:
The below data shows the amount of plastic waste generated in India during the fiscal year 2020, broken down by state in metric tons per annum. This information highlights the necessity of implementing targeted interventions and allocating resources to address plastic waste effectively in various regions. Maharashtra generated the highest amount of plastic waste with 443,724 metric tons, followed by Tamil Nadu with 431,472 metric tons. Gujarat came in third with 408,201.1 metric tons, while Rajasthan generated the lowest amount of plastic waste with 51,965 metric tons from the top 14 states of India. This information can help identify areas that require more attention and resources to address the plastic waste problem in India.

Cultivating environmental stewardship:
At the core of the solution lies the cultivation of environmental stewardship from a young age. India must invest in comprehensive educational programs, integrating environmental literacy into school curricula. By nurturing a sense of responsibility towards the environment and fostering sustainable practices, we can empower future generations to become environmentally conscious citizens.

The role of education and awareness:
While education lays the foundation, awareness campaigns play a crucial role in mobilizing communities towards sustainable behaviour change. Targeted outreach initiatives, leveraging traditional and digital platforms, can amplify the message of environmental conservation and inspire collective action. Engaging stakeholders across sectors is essential in driving the dissemination of information and fostering collaboration towards a common goal.

Challenges and opportunities:
Despite regulatory measures, effective implementation and enforcement remain challenges in combating plastic pollution. Robust enforcement, coupled with public awareness campaigns, is imperative in curbing the proliferation of plastic waste and ensuring compliance with existing laws. Additionally, fostering innovation and promoting sustainable alternatives are crucial steps towards reducing reliance on single-use plastics and creating a circular economy.

As we commemorate World Environment Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to protecting the planet and combating plastic pollution. By fostering collaboration, promoting education and awareness, and implementing effective regulatory measures, India can pave the way towards a planet free of plastic, for generations to come.

(The author is the Director at Customized Energy Solutions Europe BV and India Adviser to EARTHDAY.ORG)


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