India is the global host of World Environment Day 2018, which makes it imperative for the country to helm the worldwide crusade against plastic pollution.
It is an undeniable reality that we are all surrounded by insurmountable amounts of plastic waste. With the exception of a small population of environmentally conscious individuals and organisations, public concern towards the issue is largely laced with apathy and indifference.
As much as we close our eyes to the hazards of plastic, it is indeed a problem that is central to our continued existence on earth and requires immediate collaborative action before it is too late to save the planet.
Understanding the precarious situation, the Government of India has decided to step up and has committed itself to commemorate World Environment Day in its truest essence, through a series of activities and events that aim to generate substantial public interest as well as participation.
With the announcement that all ‘single-use’ plastic across the country will be eliminated beginning June 5, India aims to stem the flow of plastics among 130 crore people and eliminate disposables in its race to beat plastic pollution by 2022.
Alongside this, initiatives like pan-Indian plastic clean-up drives across public spaces, national reserves and forests along with simultaneous beach clean-up activities are in the pipeline. The pledge also includes transforming 100 monuments across the country into plastic and litter-free zones. Even the Tourism Ministry has risen to the occasion by pledging to avoid plastic straws at public places.
However, many breakthrough moves have already been initiated by various states across the country to cut down plastic consumption and manage the existing waste across their jurisdiction. These actions serve as perfect examples and can be taken up by other states as well.
Here are five initiatives taken across the country where municipalities, the state administration and the common public joined hands to tackle the plastic crises at their own level.
1. Reusables in government offices
On June 5, government offices in Kerala made the switch to ink pens and steel cutlery to ensure articles like plastic water bottles, disposable teacups and plastic carry bags are no longer used across the office premises. Mooted by the Suchitwa Mission and Haritha Keralam Mission, the idea envisioned by the concerned authorities was to make government departments set an example for a clean environment. The step can be easily emulated across not just government offices but also corporates and private organisations while paving the way for an environment-friendly work culture.
2. Fishing for plastic waste from water bodies
The creatures of the sea are sadly paying the price of our indifference and inability to manage waste, and nothing is more disheartening than coming across multiple reports about the carcasses of marine animals on seashores, with plastic waste inside their bellies.
However, there is help. As per a brilliant initiative helmed by Kerala’s Suchitwa Mission, 28 fishermen from the Neendakara harbour have been engaged in not just finding fish but also plastic that either gets stuck in the fishing nets or floats in the sea. In last 10 months since the project was launched, they have managed to recover 25 tonnes of plastic waste.
Coastal states across India can implement similar drives by looping in local communities which play a critical role in conserving the marine ecosphere. Besides initiatives like this, many beach clean-ups have been undertaken in Versova and Chennai
3. Crackdown on plastic usage
While states like Maharashtra, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Punjab have imposed some form of a ban on plastic, there is also confusion among both the authorities and citizens as to what is permissible and what is not.
Standing out in this regard is the state of Sikkim. Thanks to its complete crackdown on plastic, it went on to earn the tag of India’s cleanest state.
Sikkim is the second smallest state in the country, and therefore, it had no scope for the creation of multiple landfill sites. In 1998, it became the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags, and in 2016, it took a significant step by banning the use of packaged drinking water in government offices and government events and the use of Styrofoam and thermocol disposable plates and cutlery across the entire state.
If state governments work towards making alternative solutions cheaper and accessible to the public, what this tiny state has achieved in 20 years is no distant dream for the rest of the country.
4. Utilising plastic for road surfacing
Thanks to Professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan of the Thiagarajar College of Engineering in Madurai, using plastics for road surfacing is now a reality, and many states are considering to implement this pioneering tactic to manage their plastic waste. Kerala, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are a few states that have already begun work on these lines.
Imagine the amounts of plastic waste that can be put to better use while flagging off development projects across the country!
5. Upcycling plastic for better purposes
From construction materials to threads and fabrics for the textile industry, many organisations across India have been upcycling plastic for more significant purposes.
The malleability of plastic is what made it a household entity almost a century ago, and now, the same property is being used to keep a tab on our wastages. Even the government’s recent proposal to introduce plastic currency notes is a great step in upcycling plastic waste.
If you know any initiatives in your city or state where plastic is being put to eco-friendly uses that we have not listed above, do write to us and share the ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)