World Environment Day:
- The ‘World Environment Day’ (June 5) was celebrated with a critical theme: beat plastic pollution.
- India was the global host of this year’s event.
Beating plastic pollution:
- This year’s theme urges governments, industries, communities and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives.
- It also urges this target group to reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastics, which are polluting our environment and threatening human health.
- Plastics are organic polymers of high molecular mass and often contain other substances.
- They are usually synthetic, mainly derived from petrochemicals.
- Plastic is a difficult substance for nature to digest.
Have become indispensable:
- Plastic has become an indispensable material in modern society.
- Due to their low cost, ease of manufacture, versatility, non-corrosiveness and imperviousness to water, plastics are used for multiple purposes at different scales.
- Worldwide, one million plastic bags and one million plastic bottles are used every minute.
- About 50% of our plastic use is single use (disposable) and it constitutes 10% of the total waste generated.
- In 2015, scientists said that of the nearly 7 billion tons of plastic waste generated, only 9% was recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the environment.
Plastic usage in India:
- In India also, the accumulation of plastic waste is huge.
- An estimate in 2015 revealed that 60 cities across the country generated over 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste every day.
- Each year, 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans.
- A study revealed that 20 rivers (mostly from Asia) carry two-thirds of plastic waste to the ocean; the Ganga’s contribution to this is one of the highest.
- Researchers exploring the Arctic have found very high levels of microplastics trapped in the ice.
Negative economic impact:
- The economic impact of plastic pollution on marine ecosystems through fisheries and tourism losses and beach cleaning-up costs is estimated to be around $13 billion per year.
- Plastic disposed of on land degrades slowly and its chemicals leach into the surroundings.
- Drinking water samples analysed from 14 countries, including India, revealed that 83% have micro-plastics concentrations.
- According to a United Nations Environment Programme report, the overall annual natural capital cost of plastic use in the consumer goods sector is $75 billion.
- In reality, plastic cannot be eliminated from our day-to-day activities.
- But it should not be allowed to reach the soil or water.
- The government should restrict plastic production and encourage recycling through appropriate policies.
- The ‘Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016’ need to be strictly followed.
- Mass public awareness on the dangers of plastic hazards is a prerequisite.
- The Swachh Bharat Mission should emerge as a platform for plastic waste management.
- As most plastic items pass through human hands, behavioural change is necessary.
- Household-wise waste segregation is the key.
- Citizens should take responsibility towards maintaining cleaner surroundings.
Alternatives to plastic:
- Eco-friendly substitutes (cloth/paper/jute bags, leaves/areca leaf plates, paper straws) should be developed.
- For this, scientific and financial support (soft loans and subsidies) is required.
- The recent decision by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on extending the mandate on packing food grains and sugar products in jute bags is welcome.
- We cannot transform our world into a ‘plastic planet’.
- What is needed is collective public effort to stop plastic pollution and safeguard our ecosystem/biodiversity.
GS Paper III: Environment