Rajya Sabha TV programs like ‘The Big Picture’, ‘In Depth’ and ‘India’s World’ are informative programs that are important for UPSC preparation. In this article, you can read about the discussions held in the ‘Big Picture’ episode on “Say No to Plastic” for the IAS exam.
- Guests – Dr Suneel Pandey, Senior Fellow and Director, Environment & Waste Management Division, TERI; Prof. C.K. Varshney, Environmentalist and Former Dean, School of Environment Sciences, JNU; Sandeep Sen, Sr Journalist & Author,
- Anchor – Frank Rausan Pereira
- Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to shun single-use plastic and use jute and cloth bags to protect the environment.
- Plastic was popularised in the 1960s as a convenient material for everyday use.
- The problems caused by single use plastics (SUPs) were recognised in 2007
- United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) had declared the theme for World Environment Day 2018 as ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. It was hosted by India.
- As a part of the event, the government had announced its intention to phase out single-use plastic by 2022.
- Plastic waste has been observed everywhere, from the depths of the oceans to the peaks of Himalayas.
- Plastic can’t be removed entirely from the planet because it has many advantages as a material for daily use and in specialty applications.
- Saudi Arabia plans to invest in India to produce more petrochemicals and plastic, slowly transforming India into one of the biggest producers and consumers of plastic.
Issues Caused by Plastic:
- Regulation of Single Use Plastics (SUPs) is a major problem the world is battling at this point of time.
- SUPs are used only once and thrown into the environment.
- Consumers find SUPs such as food packaging (especially in home delivery of food), disposable glasses, straws much more convenient to use.
- The main problem lies in the inadequate collection and recycling systems.
- According to the Environment Ministry, about 20,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in the country, out of which only 13,000-14000 tonnes are collected.
- Worldwide, the amount of plastic waste collected is only around 16-18% of the total generation.
- Micro Plastics:
- Plastics do not decay in the soil but undergoes wear and tear and disintegrates into micron sized particles (micro plastics).
- Plastics may disappear from the eyes but the invisible micro plastics remain to cause problems.
- There are no credible estimates about the quantity of micro plastics present in the soil and oceans.
- In a recent research micro plastics were found in the snow samples collected from the Svalbard islands of the Arctic sea.
- Water crisis:
- Uncollected SUPs accumulate in the water bodies and clogs the drains before ultimately reaching the oceans.
- The North Pacific Garbage Dump/Gyre is an example of accumulation of plastic in the ocean.
- The garbage gyre churns the plastic waste and produces much more micro plastics.
- Animals, especially marine organisms often consume micro plastics and eventually die.
- Further, clogging of drains is a factor responsible for floods
- Health issues:
- Micro plastics may accumulate in the lungs and blood streams and cause severe consequences.
- Carcinogenic chemicals such as furans and dioxins are released by the burning or pyrolysis of plastic.
- People often drink hot water in PET bottles and consume harmful components.
- Collection of used plastics, mostly done in the informal sector, stay away from collecting certain types of waste because of lack of profit. Ex.: Pet bottles fetch a higher price, but straws carry bags, etc. do not.
- Businesses to business (B2B) transmission of goods involve huge quantities of around 130 types of plastic packaging.
- Issues Related to the Mindset:
- Throwing away plastic is everyone’s problem and nobody is willing to take responsibility.
- It is difficult to reduce the use of plastic since it is cheaper.
- There is a notion that some plastic is good and others wrong. But, even cloth fabric, earbuds and cigarette butts are harmful, as they may disperse micro plastic fibrils in the air.
- Industries make us subservient to plastic. If we reduce using it, industry lobby will fund illegitimate studies to prove that plastic is not harmful.
The Real Cost of Plastic:
- Plastic materials may be cheap but the distributed cost or decentralised cost is very high.
- The distributed cost or decentralised cost is calculated by considering the environmental, economic and health damages and threats.
- Fisheries sector may suffer due to the deadly impact of micro plastics in the marine environment and India being a major exporter of marine products should keep its oceans free of plastic, as plastic digested fishes are rejected, as due standards are expected.
- Since plastics are synthesised from petroleum the cost involves the environmental damage done during the mining, transportation and refining of petroleum.
- Shopkeepers need to charge a price for plastic carry bags and encourage customers to bring cloth bags and glass/metal containers from home. Ex.: Mother Dairy outlets provide milk in containers brought from home.
- Customers can ensure the quality of the products since they could see and taste it directly.
- Segregation, collection and disposal of plastic waste needs to be done in a proper scientific
- Alternate materials should be mass produced so that they become affordable with the help of economy of scale and large demand.
- Appropriate funding should be provided for a comprehensive research to identify and quantify the plastic waste and detect the sources.
- A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of each type of plastic need to be carried out, considering the environmental and health costs.
- Start-ups, universities and research centres need to find new ways to recycle plastic such as using it in highways construction, etc.
- Companies which made huge profit from selling plastics have the liability and moral responsibility to fund research for alternatives.
- Industries need to build an incentive system for recovering the plastics; especially the Multi Layered Plastic Packaging (MLP), from the consumers.
- The supply chain of plastic need to be tracked for determining whether they are collected back or not.
- There should be a consensus based on the fact that plastic is not essential for our survival.
- Awareness programs need to be expanded and innovative ideas need to be invited from the civil society.
- University of New South Wales, Australia has devised a technology to destroy non-segregated plastics at higher temperatures and this technology requires temperature increase at a faster pace and quickly. This will result in decrease of plastic without causing pollution.
- The cost for adopting is not too high as well and this is currently practiced on commercial basis in Australia
- What we need at this moment is opening of opportunities to new start-up companies and using the knowledge of ISRO to make it an adaptable mission
- Plastic waste can be used as an alternate fuel for co-processing in cement kilns.
- Reverse vending machine in Bangalore and Karol bagh scraps plastic bottles.
- If plastic needs to be banned, affordable alternates need to be promoted.
- Alternative materials to plastic should be environment-friendly and affordable.
- Glass bottles, aluminium containers (for milk), cloth and jute bags can be used while shopping.
- Alternatives made of natural material provide employment opportunities in the cottage industry
- Plastic is a miraculous product but it is harmful to the ecosystem as a whole. It is already too late to destroy the existing plastic waste without causing pollution. In addition to that, each type of plastic need to be replaced with an eco-friendly material at the manufacturing level itself.
- In the past civilizations have survived without plastic so going forward this society can also survive without it but with suitable alternatives infused by upgrading the technology.
- It is now the right time to say no to plastic.
Read previous RSTV articles here.