Rajat Sharma

Let us all join the noble mission to banish single-use plastics

AKbPrime Minister Narendra Modi has given a clarion call to the nation to get rid of single-use plastics by October 2, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. At a function in Mathura, Modi met a group of nine women labourers, sat with them with piles of different kinds of plastics and discussed with them how to segregate plastics from garbage.

I fully support Prime Minister Modi’s noble mission to banish single-use plastics. All of us use plastic products in our daily life, but we never pause to think about the risks they pose to us and our environment.

Time has now come to say goodbye to use of plastics. The government may call for a ban on single-use plastics, but its successful implementation depends on our wholehearted cooperation. We must spread awareness about the risks posed by single-use plastics.

Most of us start our day by using single-use plastics. We first buy milk packed in plastic pouches, carry them in polythene bags, then buy vegetables and fruits from vendors in polythene bags, we also buy drinking water packaged in plastic bottles, purchase potato chips and other eatables packed in plastic, and in offices and homes, drink tea and coffee in plastic cups with plastic covers.

From milk to vegetables to tea and coffee, single-use plastic has become part of our daily routine. We have to get rid of them. Most of these single-use plastics end up in garbage bins and from there, they find their way to huge garbage dumps that encircle our cities. Polythene shopping bags, plastic bottles, straws, cups, plates, food wrappers, gift wraps, disposable coffee cups, plastic spoons, plastic forks, plastic containers, all of them end up in garbage dumps.

The problems arise when these are taken for recycling. Every year, we create 1.40 crore tonnes of plastic garbage, out of which people living in our 60 cities contribute the most.

These single plastics are one of the main causes behind global warming and climate change. Since most of them are non-biodegradable, they damage our soil for centuries to come.

In Delhi, we have three big garbage dump hills, one at Bhalswa Dairy, the other in Ghazipur in the east, and the third at Okhla in the south. There are big plants which treat waste material, but only one-thirteenth of single use plastics, which comes to merely 7 per cent, can be recycled. The rest of the plastics lie deeply embedded in the ground, and over the years, running water from this surface reach our rivers and seas, endangering the fate of our future generations.

You may have seen visuals of huge quantities of polythene bags being taken out from the stomachs of dead cows and other cattle. In a single case in Nagore, Rajasthan, 170 kg of polythene was extracted from the stomachs of a cow and a bullock. Nearly 80 kg polythene was extracted from the cow’s stomach and the remaining 90 kg polythene was found inside the bullock’s stomach.

Plastic waste also ends up on the floor of the seas endangering marine life. In Davao, Phillipines, nearly 40 kg plastic was found from the stomach of a dead whale. A UNESCO report says, at a least one lakh marine animals die every year due to plastic waste. Nearly 2,000 species of fish face extinction due to plastic pollution. Another scientific study says, effects of plastic pollution have been noticed in at least 90 per cent of sea birds.

If single-use plastic is burnt instead of recycling, it releases toxic gases in the air. Single-use plastic that lie on garbage dumps emit methane gas, which can cause climate change. Methane gas is 30 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. Sanitation workers die of methane gas when they enter deep septic tanks.

You may not be knowing it, but it is a fact that single-use plastics find their way to our body. On an average, 50 molecules of plastic waste reach our body through air, food and water. These can cause harmful diseases. Styrofoam is also part of the plastic family. Normally, styrofoam is used to package electronic and other products. This can harm our nervous system, lungs and reproductive organs.

In 2012, the Supreme Court had said that a huge atomic bomb is ticking in the form of plastic waste. A FICCI study says, an average Indian uses a minimum of 11 kg plastic in a year, while an American uses 110 kg a year. Throughout the world, 100 billion plastic bags are manufactured every year. We throw 35 lakh tonnes of plastic bags every year.

In India, we generate 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste daily. This adds up to 95 lakh tonnes a year. Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, MP and Odisha are the five states that consume plastic products heavily. Not only this, 1.5 lakh tonnes of plastic waste enter India from foreign shores every year. A 2017 report by Nature Communication says, 1.1 lakh tonnes of plastic waste is thrown into river Ganga every year.

The question now is: what is the way out? We have to banish single-use plastics from our life. Already, 13 countries including the US, New Zealand, France, Canada, Morocco, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and South Korea, have banned single-use plastics. India is going to impose ban on single-use plastics on October 2. In India, the government has already banned production, import, storage, transport and sale of plastics of less than 50 microns, but this order is being flouted with impunity.

After the Prime Minister’s appeal, campaign against single-use plastics has begun in several cities and states. People have started using metal and glass bottles instead of plastic. Use of plastic water bottles has been prohibited in several ministries of central government. Three students of Dr. Ambedkar Institute of Technology in Kanpur have produced eco-friendly plastic by using potato and soap.

Banishing single-use plastics is an uphill task. We consume 1.7 crore tonnes plastic products a year, out of which only 7-10 per cent are used in packaging. The problem lies in replacing plastic packaging with another viable form. The turnover of packaged water industry in India is roughly Rs 30,000 crore and this industry employs seven lakh people. We have to factor in this fact before taking a decision.

It is a hard fact that there is presently no viable substitute to single-use plastics. But the time has now come to say farewell to plastics. There may be initial hiccups, but a plastic-free India is a must for the sake of our future generation and for the sake of our beautiful earth.

Please stay away from plastics. To the maximum extent possible, kindly use cloth or jute bags to replace plastic. Avoid using non-recyclable plastic bottles and plastic straws. These are small suggestions, but if followed scrupulously, it can play a big role.

Secondly, our R&D scientists should put in their best efforts to find a viable product to replace single-use plastics. As part of India TV’s initiative towards a plastic-free India, I assure you, I will show in my ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ program, news reports about scientists who are working hard and will surely attain success. I hope, the government will encourage these scientists. Let us vow not to use plastic and let us also persuade others too. This is, after all, a noble mission.

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