Take steps to check plastic menace

In spite of judicial strictures, campaigns by informed civil society groups and some government action, the problem of plastic waste is steadily increasing in the country. Plastics of various kinds are a part of modern living. When consumption, which is considered the main feature of development, goes up, the use of plastics also increases. The problem is not in the use of plastic, but in the failure to dispose it. It is not specific to India, and most countries have found it difficult to get rid of the piles of waste. But India’s record is among the worst in the world. The plastic waste generated every year in the country is about 6 million tonnes. Only about 60 per cent of it is collected after use. Even when plastic is recycled, it does not solve the problem. But in India, even recycling is not done widely and efficiently. The result is a growing threat to environment, which affects the health of human beings and other living things.

Plastic is non-biodegradable and lasts for hundreds of years. Since much of it is not recycled and is thrown around, it pollutes both land and air. A lot of it enters the food chain and creates serious health problems. Since solid waste is not segregated, plastic materials go to land fills or just anywhere. When the waste is burned, the resulting fumes also create health problems. Drains are frequently blocked with plastic waste. Another area of serious pollution is the sea and rivers. It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic was dumped into the sea in 2010, the last year for which estimates were made. The danger from this to all forms of marine life, including plants, fish and others, is obvious. The danger is much greater than what is seen from the figures, because the estimates of plastic use and waste are based on official data, which are considered unreliable.

It is unrealistic to think of eliminating the use of plastic. What can only be done is to reduce consump-tion and make collection and recycling of waste more efficient. Civic agencies have the main responsibility for this. They should be made accountable for it. Pollution control boards also have to take their work  more seriously. The Supreme Court, which once called plastic waste a time bomb, has called for effective civic and official action to fight the problem of plastic pollution. Voluntary action by citizens, who can decide to avoid use of plastic, can also make a difference.

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