A nature hazard
After months of dithering, a complete ban on plastic of thickness less than 40-microns is now on the horizon.
Bangalore generates about 225 tonnes of plastic waste every day. That is a mountain by any standard, as the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) tells us.
Posing an enormous environmental hazard, besides adding to the already taxing garbage woes of the City, the mega plastic problem demands scientific responses.
But the scientific part has been clearly missing, although now there is a silver lining: After months of dithering, a complete ban on plastic less than 40-microns thickness is now on the horizon.
Implementing the ban is bound to be tough. Plastic use has become an integral part of our daily life, pervading almost every sector. However dependent we have become on plastic products, yet there is no getting away from their potential to create environmental hazards, thanks to their non-biodegradable nature.
The careless disposal of plastic waste has become a matter of concern. Plastic waste chokes drains, causes loss in porosity of soil and prevents percolation of water into soil.
The City’s recent battle with thousands of tonnes of uncleared garbage could have been tackled better had the civic agencies managed non-biodegradable plastic waste in a scientific manner. Years of unscientific disposal of waste has affected not only humans, but also animals.
Several incidents of animals such as cattle and dogs suffering after accidentally consuming plastic waste have been reported frequently. Even a Russell’s viper, which was recently found to have swallowed huge amounts of plastic waste, was rescued and rehabilitated by an animal rights organisation.
“It is not that there are no laws to prevent indiscriminate dumping and disposal of waste. It is only the implementation which has taken a back seat. Our thrust should be on the implementation of rules,” notes Dr Nandini, professor, the Department of Environment Sciences, Bangalore University.
There have been rules in the past. The Plastic (Manufacturing and Usage Rules) 1999, had clearly advocated a ban on the use of plastic bags less than 20-microns thickness. Following a ban on the use of such bags in 2003, a major drive was initiated by the KSPCB as well as the State government.
Despite several awareness programmes, the use of plastic, however, continued unabated until the government resolved to ban the use of plastic below 40-microns thickness in 2009. The KSPCB was made the implementing authority to prevent the use of plastic less than 40 microns.
The rules also suggested that those indulging in recycling of waste must mandatorily obtain permission from the KSPCB and subsequently obtain a renewal certificate annually.
When the Bruhat Bangalore Mahangara Palike (BBMP) came out with an order to traders in 2009 to discourage consumers from using plastic bags which cannot be recycled, it made less impact, as people bought plastic bags even when they were charged extra for it.
“Though we charged people extra for plastic bags, they are ready to pay for it,” says Parashivamurthy, a vegetable and fruit shop owner at Nagarbhavi. He notes that traders have been buying expensive plastic which are over 40-microns thickness.
To make matters worse, traders in food products, particularly meat, flowers, bakery products, roadside food vendors and vegetable vendors, use plastic bags below 20 microns.
“In addition, hoteliers pack food in thin plastic below 20 microns (sambar, chutney and food). Plastic table covers on which plates or plantain leaves are laid for serving food during events, including marriages, are less than 20 microns and are disposed of in the most careless manner,” points out Dr Nandini.
An official of the KSPCB admits that the implementation of rules has taken a back seat. But he blames the BBMP for the non- implementation of stringent norms. The Palike, the official says, should ensure segregation, collection and transportation of plastic waste and channelling the same for recycling. “According to the rules, there should be collection centres all over the City and rag pickers should be identified to collect waste. Where are they?” the official wondered.
The Extended Producers’ Responsibility (EPR) clause introduced in the rules framed in 2011 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests says the producer should collect and handle the amount of plastic waste he buys and uses every day. “This applies to several food and other packing industries which use plastic bags. Suppose a hotel uses about 10 kg of plastic covers/bags every day. The same amount of waste should be collected by them from other sources too and disposed of. Unfortunately this is not being implemented,” explains the KSPCB official.
If the EPR is implemented in the City, five lakh people dealing in food packaging and every shop and mall will be drawn into its net. The KSPCB maintains that ensuring implementation of this clause is the BBMP’s responsibility and the Pollution Control Board can step in only when there is industrial pollution.
Experts say plastic waste can be utilised by cement industries as fuel for boilers. It could also be utilised for asphalting roads for increased durability. “The government of Tamil Nadu has allocated Rs 200 crore in its budget for taking up projects to make roads using plastic waste. Such efforts can be considered even in Bangalore. We already have a couple of such roads,” says Dr Paramesh Naik, faculty, the Department of Environment Sciences, Bangalore University.