A call to act: beat plastic pollution

A recent incident, narrated below, that took place at a well-known supermarket chain in the city is telling of the dogged apathy of citizens towards one of the most pressing environmental concerns of the modern world, namely the explosion of plastic pollution.

A customer at the supermarket was asked to pay for the bio-degradable bag provided to pack her provisions. When she protested that it was a customer’s right to get (plastic) bags free on shopping, she was reminded that the practice of providing free plastic bags had been banned lately.

The upset customer stormed out of the store dumping her cartload behind. She is perhaps the face of scores of people across India — and the rest of the world — that continues to show indifference to the heavy burden of non-recyclable plastics on the environment that is turning our once pristine world into a toxic hell.

It is more than two years now since the Centre introduced amended rules pertaining to plastic use — its manufacture and disposal — across India. Yet, the ban on plastic bags below 50 microns that the new rule imposed is adhered to only by some very select business enterprises such as in the example cited above.

As a consequence, non-recyclable plastic bags — and other throwaway plastic products — are still widely used in India, and internationally, turning the indifference shown towards our environment that is steadily deteriorating due to excessive use of non-recyclable plastics into a global epidemic. How else could we explain the fact that every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags and each year at least eight million tonnes — the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute — of plastic end up in the oceans?

To what could we attribute the consumption of a million plastic bottles every minute? On what basis can we justify the scale of plastic production in the last decade that has outnumbered its production in the whole of the last century? Why would 50% of all plastics used be single-use disposable ones?

The answer to these questions lie in the genesis of plastics that goes back to the early 19th century when expensive, natural raw materials such as ivory, rubber and shellac used in the manufacture of goods were replaced with synthetic, inexpensive and non-dwindling substitutes that could be produced in onsite laboratories as and when needed.

This led to the whole world becoming ‘plasticised’ and plastics replaced most traditional materials, including tin and aluminium. In no time, plastic ushered in the world of material utopia to its denizens. The plastic industry boomed and in the last 50 years, it has grown at twice the annual rate of all other manufacturing combined.

However, this was not an unmixed blessing as synthetics are toxic to produce. The manufacturing process that is followed to produce plastics results in the release of staggering quantities of pollution into the air, water and soil.

Besides, plastic is non-degradable in its characteristic. This has resulted in enormous amounts of plastic being dumped into the ocean causing great damage to marine life. Today, it is believed that the Pacific Ocean is six times more abundant with plastic waste than zooplankton.

Use biodegradables

The United Nations conceived World Earth Day in 1972 and designated June 5 to be celebrated in creating awareness among individuals, enterprises and communities to preserve and enhance the environment.

With participation from more than 100 countries globally, the annual celebration of the day centres on a specific, urgent environmental theme. Rightly, the theme for this year’s World Earth Day, hosted by India, is “Beat Plastic Pollution”.

As India leads other participating nations in promoting strategies to reduce the dependence on plastic and sundry other environmentally polluting practices, it is an urgent call to every responsible citizen of the world to contribute concretely towards the conservation and upgradation of our environment, forests, oceans and beaches. There are many modest ways in which every member of the society can show his solidarity towards environmental protection and progress.

The simplest I can think of, as an ordinary citizen, is to ensure the use of as much bio-degradable products as possible in our daily lives. Others include supporting communities in specific campaigns to beat single-use plastics and supporting organisations that galvanise environmental programmes. The need and the will to be part of the global platform in the up-keep of our environment is as much an urgent call to act as a universal fundamental social responsibility of all.

As Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said, “If each of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our Green Social Responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet.” On World Earth Day, with India as the host nation, the minister’s words are indeed a call to act!

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A call to act: beat plastic pollution

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