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DAILY NEWS ANALYSIS

  • 31 October, 2021

  • 20 Min Read

Plastic Pollution in India

Plastic Pollution is an important problem in India. It is a part of UPSC GS Paper III Biodiversity, Environment and Pollution in India. Before learning about Plastic Pollution in India it is highly recommended that you watch Ankit Sir's lecture about Plastic Pollution crisis and then come back to this write up.

What are Single-use plastics?

  • Single-use plastics (SUPs) are those that are discarded after one-time use.
  • Besides the ubiquitous plastic bags, SUPs include water and flavoured/aerated drinks bottles, takeaway food containers, disposable cutlery, straws, and stirrers, processed food packets and wrappers, cotton bud sticks, etc.
  • Of these, foamed products such as cutlery, plates, and cups are considered the most lethal to the environment.
  • Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.
  • Some states like Telangana, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh banned plastic bottles and Tetra packs, single-use straws, plastic/styrofoam tea cups/containers, etc. But many like Bihar banned only polythene bags.

Pollutants in Plastic

  • Plastic includes Diethylhexyl Pthalet, Cadmium, Lead, Mercury.
  • Burning of Plastic leads to release of Polychlorinated Biphenyls, Pathogens, Heavy metals in water bodies, Phosgene (COCl2) and Methyl Isocyanate, Dioxins and Furans.
  • Microplastics in India are those plastics whose size is less than 5 mm. They are mainly made of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) and Nylon. Used in cosmetics (exfoliation), toothpaste, biomedical.
  • Microplastic includes microbeads (solid plastic particles of less than one millimeter in their largest dimension) that are used in cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers which are used for aggressive blast cleaning, microfibers used in textiles and virgin resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing processes.

Marine Plastic

  • About 10 countries including India contributed to the plastic litter in the Great Nicobar island. They were Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Myanmar, China and Japan.
  • Major portion of the litter (40.5%) was of Malaysian origin. It was followed by Indonesia (23.9%) and Thailand (16.3%).The litter of Indian origin only amounted to 2.2%
  • The overwhelming contribution from Indonesia and Thailand was likely due to its proximity to the island; the plastic is likely to have made its way to the island because of water currents via the Malacca Strait, which is a major shipping route.
  • The huge quantities of marine debris observed on this island might be due to improper handling of the solid waste from fishing/mariculture activity and ship traffic.
  • Plastic pollution has emerged as one of the severest threats to ocean ecosystems and its concentration has reached 5,80,000 pieces per square kilometre.
  • Plastic represents 83% of the marine litter found. The remaining 17% is mainly textiles, paper, metal and wood.

Problem of plastic in India

  • Plastic bags are not safe for the ecosystem, since they are not easy to recycle. They cause severe health hazard for human, animals and the environment.
  • According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generates close to 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day and over 10,000 tonnes a day of plastic waste remains uncollected.
  • According to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) study the plastic processing industry is estimated to grow to 22 million tonnes (MT) a year by 2020 from 13.4 MT in 2015 and nearly half of this is single-use plastic.
  • India’s per capita plastic consumption of less than 11 kg, is nearly a tenth of the United States of America (109 kg).
  • Waste plastic from packaging of everything from food, cosmetics and groceries to goods delivered by online platforms remains unaddressed.
  • Collect-back system The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 are clear that producers, importers and brand owners must adopt a collect-back system for the plastic they introduce into the environment. However, not much has been done to take the process forward.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility clause: Small producers of plastics are facing the ban, while more organised entities covered by the Extended Producer Responsibility clause continue with business as usual.
  • Recently there was also an issue of Plastic Pollution in Sundarbans and Microplastic pollution in Ganga.

Alternatives to Plastic

  • Although compostable, biodegradable or even edible plastics made from various materials such as sugarcane bagasse, corn starch, and grain flour are promoted as alternatives, these currently have limitations of scale and cost.
  • Some biodegradable packaging materials require specific microorganisms to be broken down, while compostable cups and plates made of polylactic acid, a popular resource derived from biomass such as corn starch, require industrial composters.
  • On the other hand, articles made through a different process involving potato and corn starch have done better in normal conditions, going by the experience in Britain.
  • Seaweed is also emerging as a choice to make edible containers.
  • In India, though, in the absence of robust testing and certification to verify claims made by producers, spurious biodegradable and compostable plastics are entering the marketplace.

Solutions to Plastic Pollution in India

  1. Government of India has recently notified Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2021 to eliminate single use plastic by 2022. We need to ensure its strict implementation.
  2. For Marine plastic pollution, World countries have started an initiative called MARPOL, BOBLME Project, Automated Moorings, UN led Clean Seas Campaign, 2017 etc.
  3. Convert plastic waste into Energy and useful products.

Way Forward

  • Governments must start charging the producers for their waste, and collect it diligently, which will lead to recovery and recycling.
  • State and local governments should upgrade their waste management systems, which is necessary to even measure the true scale of packaging waste.
  • Role of local bodies: Local bodies should consult manufacturers or importers to assess the problem. Cities and towns need competent municipal systems to achieve this.
  • A central legislation with a clear definition of what constitutes single-use plastic is also necessary.

Source: PIB


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