On October 2, 2019, India will be undertaking a massive campaign to collect and segregate plastic waste. It is a part of the Swachhata Hi Seva campaign by the department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India. The problem of plastic pollution is a universal issue that transcends religious divide, tribal clashes, and party politics. According to the United Nations, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute around the world, and five trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once and then discarded. During the 1950-1970s, the amount of plastic produced was limited and thus relatively manageable. However, today, approximately 200 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year, almost equivalent to the combined weight of Earth’s entire human population.
Single-use plastic is the main source of waste concern for the world’s natural environment, as more than 99% of plastics are chemicals derived from non-renewable resources such as oil, natural gas and coal, all of which have been proven as highly polluting. Single-use plastic products have become so integral to our daily lives that we do not think twice before purchasing or using them. These include grocery and bin bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery. An average of 79% of plastic waste produced are accumulated in landfills or in the environment, 12% of waste is incinerated, and only 9% of all plastic waste are recycled. The solution of recycling is also debatable as the multi-billion dollar industry of plastic recycling is shrouded in mystery and there are several myths linked to it. However, in 2017, a huge re-think to recycling was necessitated when China the largest importer of plastic waste imposed a ban on the import which was being exported by western countries as a result of severe environmental implications.
The environmental and ecological affects of plastic are highlighted everyday but the problem is much deeper. There are direct risks to human health, even beyond the toxic fumes created by burning plastic. Researchers at the University of Reading have discovered micro plastics in the aquatic larvae of mosquitoes that are ingesting the micro particles from polluted water. Once inside the food chain into fish and other creatures, they pose a potential health problem for humans. To combat plastic pollution, the Government of Nagaland has imposed a total ban on single-use plastics on September 16, 2019 and district administrations such as the DMC is imposing INR 2000 fine on defaulters in an effort to enforce the ban. However, there are several issues yet to be addressed. What steps are the government and district administrations taking to collect and dispose the waste on a daily basis? Where is the nearest government approved recycling plant? How are the challenges of waste segregation being tackled? We the consumers need to slow down the flow of plastic at its source by consuming less and finding alternatives to plastic in our everyday lives, lest we drown in plastic. Let’s take part in such campaigns and start our own drives to not only clean up our towns, but also maintain them and safeguard them for future generations.