From July 1, a ban on single-use plastic products has been imposed across India. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), 30 single-use plastic items have been included in the ban which also extends to the sale, stocking, distribution and export of low utility plastic products with high littering scope.
Bikrant Tiwary, chief executive officer of a social organisation named Grow-Trees.com says, "Banning single-use plastics is a great move but it can be and should be supported with greener options that are healthier for the planet. During our afforestation projects, the amount of plastic waste we come across even in the most eco-sensitive regions is appalling. Yes, it is important to plant more trees to address climate change but it is equally important to not let pollutants seep into our food chain, choke our oceans and turn our planet into a huge landfill. It is good to know that some of the products enlisted in this ban included items that are widely used and discarded everyday."
Be it earbuds with plastic sticks, ice cream sticks, plastic flags, cups, plates, cutlery, straws or cigarette packs, their rampant use impacts the environment in devastating ways. There are so many natural alternatives available to us that we must now explore decisively to change the cycle of consumption and endless generation of toxic waste.
Bamboo for instance is a fast growing, renewable, virtually maintenance free natural resource. It needs little water, is great for the environment and for soil health and does not even requires any pesticides to grow. "We can use its diverse varieties for multiple purposes, including in the construction industry, for making paper, furniture and even toothbrushes, straws, storage containers, cutlery and water bottles," says Tiwary.
According to a UN Environment Programme's (UNEP's) report oceans store approximately 75 to 199 million tons of plastic waste. "The numbers are expected to rise to 23-37 million by 2040 and it is time to switch to bioplastics for good.
These are derived from biopolymers and renewable biomass sources like vegetable fats, recycled food waste, corn starch, woodchips, sawdust etc. Bioplastics can also be biologically created by fermenting sugars and lipids and are far better than products made from paper because millions of trees do not need to be cut down to support their production.
It is also imperative to continue planting trees as trees help in lowering the temperature created by plastic pollutants and also work as carbon sinks.
The ministry is now embarking on a three-pronged strategy for banning single-use plastic in India. Products with high littering potential (meaning products that are quickly thrown away post usage) are being heavily discouraged. Also being prohibited and discouraged is the use of low utility plastic products. In other words, these are essentially the plastic products that have the least amount of usage or utility after being used. For instance, wrapping plastic sheets are hardly utilised after the packaging is opened. Thirdly the government is encouraging the availability of alternatives. For instance, paper bags, paper wrappings (which can be made from recycled material), bamboo spoons (instead of plastic spoons) etc are being encouraged.
India generates approximately 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste a year. The government data reveals that India's per capita plastic waste generation is 3 kg per year.
Needless to say going forward people of our country should collectively and consciously ensure that plastic items are recycled or disposed of safely. "For this, we need a three-pronged strategy," states an environmental expert who works in a firm, on condition of anonymity. She explains, "Firstly, all the plastic produced and used should be collected for disposal. Secondly, the waste plastic must be recycled or incinerated; it should not reach landfills or choke our waterbodies at any post. Thirdly, the reuse or disposal has to be done in a manner that is environment friendly and does not end up creating more pollution or health hazards. But most importantly, those plastic items that are difficult to collect or recycle should be eliminated from use. This is where the current ban, however limited, fits in."