There is a growing need for a reduction in plastic pollution. Plastics are chemical products, manufactured from petroleum residues. Plastics degrade after 1000 years of being disposed into the environment, thus, making them non-biodegradable.
It is said that by 2050 there will be more plastics in the oceans than fish. This is indeed a scary thought as nearly one billion people depend upon oceans for food. Nearly 50 % of plastic waste production is Single-use plastics. These are used and thrown.
Over 15 million tonnes of plastics waste generated by India annually
India produces over 15 million tonnes of plastics waste annually and this figure is growing. Like most of the developing world, India is being transformed by both globalization and urbanization.
According to certain data, by 2030, 50% of India be urbanized. Many urban Indians, have become wasteful consumers in the last two decades, creating massive pressure on our environment.
Managing plastic waste, ensuring reduction in wasteful consumption, a safe planet, and safe working conditions for waste handlers are, urgent challenges of today.
10-15% of plastic waste recycled globally
Though India may have a higher rate of recycling, globally only 10-15% of plastic waste is recycled. A huge proportion of global plastic waste ends up in landfills and oceans, harming us and the environment in more ways than we can comprehend. Recycling only delays the time when plastic waste reaches landfills or water bodies. Thus, Recycling alone cannot be the only means of plastic waste management.
The time to change the definition of the classical Waste Hierarchy is now. As I began to explore my interest in the environment, especially in single-use plastic pollution, I found a good definition summed up by the 3 ‘R’s referring to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. However, I would like all of us to add REFUSE to the waste hierarchy. Do not buy anything which we do not really need.
‘Refuse’ all Single-use disposable Plastics
There is a need to urgently implement the Polluter-pays principle. Governments should bring in a Risk-based tax system; all products that create a greater risk to people and the planet should be taxed higher than those that are harm-reduction and environmentally friendly alternatives. There must be extended producer responsibility for the collection, management and recycling of plastic waste.
I have been working to reduce to eliminate single-use plastics from the hospitality sector and influencing others to do the same. I started my anti-single-use plastic campaign in March, 2018.
And as of April 2019, I had been able to eliminate over 26 million plastic straws and several other single-use plastic items! In the first few weeks of interning at UNDP, I was able to secure Memorandums of Understanding for recycling 33 tonnes of plastic waste per month. I encourage establishments to not serve straws at all and if a customer demands one then they are given eco-friendly straws.
Plastics and COVID-19
During the Covid19 lockdown, I have been working via digital platforms to promote awareness against single-use plastics. I have encouraged over 100 youth to digitally send a photo-pledge of them taking climate action by giving up three single-use plastics and thinking of the eco-friendly
alternatives they will use.
Encouraging individuals to use reusable, washable cloth masks, during this crisis, to reduce waste generation and plastic pollution is very important. Not to forget the safe disposable of biomedical waste.
Our governments must take steps to reduce plastic pollution before it is too late. How much is too much for our governments to act and reduce plastic pollution?
I would request all of you to refuse if you cannot reuse all single-use plastic products and to leave the world a little better than how you found it.
(Aditya has been appointed the youth mentor for the National Geographic “A Million Yays for the Oceans and a Million Nays for Single-use Plastics” a project in collaboration with the NGO Chintan. He was also invited by the United Nations to attend the 1st UN Youth Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York City.)