Plastic Waste Management, Concerns & Solutions

Introduction

  1. India won global ac claim for its “Beat Plastic Pollution” resolve declared on World Environment Day last year, under which it pledged to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022. So far, 22 States and Union Territories have joined the fight, announcing a ban on single-use plastics such as carry bags, cups, plates, cutlery, straws and thermocol products. Puducherry will implement a ban from March 1. Though majority of the territories in India have initiated with the campaign of Plastic waste management, no evident affirmative effect can be seen as far as environmental impacts are concerned.
  2. While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use.
  3. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates.
  4. Plastic also makes its way into our water supply – and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still aren’t sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides.

Beat Plastic Pollution Theme

“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, was a call to action for the entire country to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of the time. Chosen by the host, India, the theme of World Environment Day 2018 was focused over the aspect as how we can make changes in our everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on our natural places, our wildlife – and our own health.

Issues Related To Plastic Pollution/Waste Management

  1. Waste plastic from packaging of everything from food, cosmetics and groceries to goods delivered by online platforms remains unaddressed. It will take a paradigm shift in the manner in which waste is collected and handled by municipal authorities to change this.
  2. State and local governments are unwilling to upgrade their waste management systems, which is necessary to even measure the true scale of packaging waste.
  3. The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 are clear that producers, importers and brand owners must adopt a collect-back system for the plastic they introduce into the environment. Although the rules were notified in the same year, amended later and given high visibility by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, not much has been done to take the process forward. At the very least, local bodies should consult manufacturers or importers to assess the problem. Delaying such a measure has created the anomalous situation of small producers of plastics facing the ban, while more organised entities covered by the Extended Producer Responsibility clause continue with business as usual. Such enforcement failure is not an argument in favour of relaxing the prohibition on flimsy plastics that are typically used for under 15 minutes, but to recover thousands of tonnes of waste that end up in dumping sites.
  4. There is little doubt that plastics play a major role in several industries, notably in the automotive, pharmaceutical, health care and construction sectors. But it is the fast moving consumer goods sector that uses large volumes of packaging, posing a higher order challenge. This calls for urgent action. Governments should show the same resolve here, as they have done in imposing the ban.

Processes/Ways Of Plastic Waste Disposal Along With The Consequences

  1. Landfilling – All plastics can be disposed in landfills. However, landfilling is considered highly wasteful as it requires a vast amount of space and the chemical constituents and energy contained in plastic is lost (wasted) in this disposal route. In 2008, 29.2 million tons of plastic was disposed in landfills in the United States. In countries where landfills are poorly managed, plastic wastes can be easily blown into waterways or carried out to sea by flood water.
  2. Incineration – Plastics are derived from petroleum or natural gas, giving them a stored energy value higher than any other material commonly found in the waste stream. Incineration return some of the energy from plastic production. In fact, one pound of plastic can generate as much energy as Wyoming coal and almost as much energy as fuel oil. However, plastic incineration tends to cause negative environment and health effects as hazardous substances may be released into the atmosphere in the process. For example, PVC
  3. Recycling – Many plastics can be recycled and the materials recovered can be given a second-life. However, this method is not fully utilized, due to difficulties with the collection and sorting of plastic waste. Many developing (and even some developed countries) have poor waste management facilities which often result in plastics (and other waste) being recklessly disposed into rivers and waterbodies. Even though recycling is the most effective way to deal with plastic waste, its effectiveness is highly depended on public awareness, economic viability, and the implementation of public infrastructures to make recycling more efficient (recycling bins, specialized waste collecting trucks).
  4. Biodegradable Plastics – Biodegradable plastics are plastics that decompose by the action of living organisms. Biodegradable plastics have the potential to solve a number of waste-management issues, especially for disposable packaging that cannot be easily separated from organic waste. However, biodegradable plastics are not without controversy. Even though biodegradable plastics can be completely metabolize by organisms into carbon dioxide and water, there are allegations that Oxo-Biodegradable plastics may release metals into the environment.
  5. Impact Investing – Impact investing is investing that aims to generate specific beneficial social or environmental effects in addition to financial gain. Impact investing is a subset of socially responsible investing (SRI), but while the definition of socially responsible investing encompasses avoidance of harm, impact investing actively seeks to make a positive impact by investing, for example, in non-profits that benefit the community or in clean technology enterprises.

One way to generate financial returns whilst tackling the problem of plastics is to consider ‘impact investing’, where your money is invested in companies and funds with the aim of generating positive social or environmental outcomes, alongside financial rewards.

Lakshya Ahead/Way forward

Plastic Waste Management, Concerns & Solutions

  1. Accountable Local Governments – Waste Management is a principle task of the local self-governments/municipalities of the concerned territories. Advance technology, strict rules, efficient enforcement of the rules, skilled manpower and integrated approach will help the municipal administrations to address the challenge of Plastic waste management well.
  1. Responsible use by the people – The responsibility of the plastic pollution can’t only be wasted with the local administration where the responsible citizenry can create a huge difference. If the people obey the rules marked for the use of the commodity and participate in the efforts extended by the local bodies towards the management of the plastic waste and reduction of the plastic pollution, then there can be no better strategy to tackle the problem than this participative approach.
  1. International cooperation – As far as the environmental concerns are there, international cooperation in terms of technology, machinery, science and alternative methods to tackle the plastic problem will be a long lasting solution India needs to adopt to fight the ecological problems. It is the most crucial area where international treaties, MOUs will have a larger impact.
  1. Integrated administrative approach – The environmental ministry at the centre & the state, Pollution control boards, Commerce Ministry, think tanks etc. should join hands together to deal with the environmental concerns arising out of the improper plastic waste and management. Policy & implementation should be the areas where the internal integration of the systems and administration is needed.

Q. Plastic is an environmental monster that India will have to tackle with in the recent future.

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