July 3 is International Plastic Bag Free Day. It’s up to us to make the choice

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When asked to name three main environmental concerns, most of us are likely to name global warming, deforestation and air pollution. Plastic pollution may not even be in our top five. We assume that only cows, goats, dolphins, seals and the like die from ingesting plastic while it entered the food chain.

Our lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys contain microscopic pieces of plastic. In fact, a recent study suggests that we eat, swallow and breathe about 2,000 small pieces of plastic each week, the equivalent of a credit card.

Plastic pollution

The polymer has caused such havoc that the United Nations has flagged plastic pollution as a global crisis. We generate 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year; equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Huge islands of floating garbage can be found in the oceans. No wonder the mass of plastic in the oceans exceeds six times the amount of plankton.

Imagine the pressure on the planet with 20% of our waste made up of plastic which, unlike wood or paper, can take 300 years to disintegrate. It is to raise awareness and eliminate the use of plastic bags that today (July 3) is celebrated the International Day without Plastic Bags.

Taking into account the green mantra “Think global, act local”, think of substitutes for plastic bags, which humans use at the rate of a million per minute. Just switch to fabric, jute or canvas bags like humanity once did. Or make denim bags from your old jeans. For the fashion-conscious, there are a variety of trendy bags by green entrepreneurs, such as Aarohana EcoSocial Developments from Pune and EnviGreen from Mangalore.

Bangladesh in the lead

Bangladesh was the first country to ban thin plastic bags in 2002 after they proved to be the biggest bad guys behind flooding caused by clogged pipes. India woke up in 2006 and today most states have imposed full or partial bans on plastic carrier bags. However, law enforcement is another thing.

On Gandhi Jayanti in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that single-use plastics will be phased out by 2022. This is an optimistic deadline, given resistance from plastics manufacturers, loopholes in the law and of our own inertia.

This brings us to recycling and reuse of plastic waste. One of the exciting ways is to melt it and mix it with bitumen for road laying. These roads are smoother and more water resistant. India has 34,000 kilometers of these plastic roads.

In the roads

Bombay experienced it in 2014 in Dadar, but nothing happened until 2018, when it was tried out on a small stretch at Bandra’s D’Monte Park. The last time we heard about plastic roads was in February 2020 when the BMC decided to apply it to the whole city. It is apparently stuck because there is only one supplier providing the plastic mix.

Recycled plastic is also used to make a variety of products ranging from flowerpots to bumpers on cars to drain pipes. On this World Environment Day, Mumbai has a plastic recycling plant with a capacity of 25 tonnes per month, thanks to a partnership between Bisleri and the BMC. Plastic waste is also used to feed cement kilns.

Another way to dispose of plastic waste is the cold plasma pyrolysis process which converts it into hydrogen, methane and ethylene. The government says it supports such initiatives but they are as visible as the plastic roads in Mumbai.

Up to 40% of plastic waste generated in India is still not collected, revealed Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar in Lok Sabha in November 2019.

25,940 tonnes of plastic waste per day is generated in India, Javadekar said, citing a study by the Central Pollution Control Board. Since then, the pandemic has only resulted in an increase in pollution from disposables such as plastic masks, hand sanitizer bottles and syringes.

No green option yet

The minister also said that there is no green alternative to plastic available although the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology is working on it. Now scientists are trying to synthesize an enzyme from plastic-eating bacteria that can dissolve plastic waste in a jiffy.

Before it can be recycled, plastic waste must be collected and sorted; a job that is done by the 40 lakh little-known ragpickers in India. According to the “Banega Swachh India” survey, they collect five lakh tonnes of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles every year. In 2017, Bilal Dar, an 18-year-old rag picker from Lake Wular in Kashmir, was appointed brand ambassador for the Srinagar Municipal Corporation after the prime minister praised him in his “Mann ki Baat” for guarding the lake. clean.

Yet a win-win solution where the rag pickers, as well as the city benefit, came from inspired individuals such as Imtiaz Ali of Bhopal. He left a high-paying government job in 2008 to train Sarthak Sanstha, who began organizing ragpickers and garbage collection. Initially, aid did not come from civic authorities but from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

‘Safai Sathi’

Today, Sarthak has grown into a network of 19,000 “safai sathis” across Madhya Pradesh, who earn stable wages and live with dignity. Recently the son of a Dewas ‘safai sathi’ in MP passed the AIIMS entrance test on his first attempt.

The Sarthak model, which includes self-help groups, has now been replicated across India and even in Bangladesh. Part of the credit for Bhopal and Indore leading the Clean City competition goes to Sarthak.

Marina Walter, Country Director, UNDP, sums it up: “The way our cities deal with plastic waste will be critical to their survival. Indore’s example demonstrates the importance of involving all stakeholders, including households and businesses that generate waste, non-governmental organizations that raise awareness, and municipalities and waste pickers responsible for managing the process. ‘ ‘

Slumdog millionaires

Mumbai’s recycling center is Dharavi. Informal factories in India’s largest slum generate jobs for 2.5 lakh people and represent an estimated saving of US $ 500 million. The entrepreneurs here are real slum millionaires.

Such successes, however, cannot hide the fact that we are drowning in plastic waste. Big corporations and powerful nations have yet to join the battle wholeheartedly. Humanity’s plastic crisis has been compared to an overflowing tub and our corrective action to cleaning the floor. We have to turn off the tap or pull the drain plug.

Dangerous for humans

And those who still have the illusion that plastic isn’t such a serious threat should listen to Ruthann Rudel, Research Director, Silent Spring Institute, a leading scientific research organization dedicated to uncovering the links between chemicals. in our daily environment and women’s health: “Plastics are made up of a complex mixture of chemicals, many of which are endocrine disruptors or are of concern for other health effects.

“A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences found that the important vinyl ingredient, DEHP, is ‘a suspected danger to human reproduction’ at current exposures, and it’s just a plastic ingredient! Plastics also contain many toxic additives, such as flame retardants, metals, antimicrobials, non-stick coatings, etc.

“The fantasy that plastics are an inexpensive material is just that – a fantasy that fails to recognize the huge costs we all pay.”

Now it’s up to us to make the choice: planet or plastic.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. He appreciates comments on [email protected]


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