Regulating plastic use and minimising plastic waste can help reduce plastic pollution
ndia and Pakistan are facing a huge menace of plastic waste and the pollution caused by it that poses a considerable risk to public health, wildlife and the environment. Experts suggest urgent joint efforts to keep it in check.
They have recommended setting up a joint task force to raise awareness among the masses, environment-friendly standards for plastic-producing industries, tough penal measures to check littering of plastics and low-quality products, besides global best processes to safely dispose of millions of tonnes of plastic waste getting generated in the two nations.
Some have suggested that taxing plastic production is a possible solution to tackle the growing plastic waste crisis. While India has set a global example by banning the manufacturing, sale and use of 19 single-use plastic items – including ear buds, plastic sticks for balloons, plates, cups and straws – from July 1, demand for a similar ban is gaining momentum in the neighbouring country.
“Plastic pollution has emerged as the biggest challenge for mankind. It poses grave health hazards and destroys the environment beyond repair. The menace of plastic pollution is lethal,” said Ajay Dubey, a prominent green activist in India.
Dubey says both countries should set up a joint task force to tackle this growing problem.
“India and Pakistan need to take immediate steps to regulate production of plastics and their use. There is an urgent need to make people aware of the serious impact of plastic pollution, which is causing irreparable damage to the environment,” says Dubey, who has been raising his voice on various environment-related issues.
He says the ill effects of plastic pollution are extending their tentacles beyond the urban areas in both countries.
“Plastic pollution is known to cause a lot of problems in urban areas. It chokes sewers and drainage pipes and causes diseases in people and in animals. Now plastic pollution is fast spreading in rural areas as well,” says Dubey, who won a historic battle on regulating tiger tourism in the country from India’s Supreme Court.
Experts say besides plastic pollution, waste management has emerged as the biggest challenge for the civil authorities for many cities in India and Pakistan.
Commissioned in 1984, the Ghazipur landfill is the biggest garbage dump in Delhi. It holds over 14 million tonnes of waste. The other two sites, Bhalswa and Okhla landfills, were started in 1994.
“India and Pakistan need to take immediate steps to regulate production of plastics and their use. There is an urgent need to make people aware of the serious impact of plastic pollution, which is causing irreparable damage to the environment.”
The National Green Tribunal, which adjudicates environment-related matters, expressed serious concern over incidents of ire at the Ghazipur landfill site in Delhi in April this year, saying the dump sites are like “time bombs”.
It said that the dump sites in Delhi, and in other cities, are like “time bombs” because they constantly generate explosive gases like methane that may escape through vertical and lateral ways, posing a constant threat of explosion.
The Ghazipur landfill site is spread across 70 acres.
India is generating 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said in April this year.
“Plastic has become one of the most pressing environmental issues that we are facing today. India generates about 3.5 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. The per capita plastic waste generation has almost doubled over the last five years. Plastic pollution adversely affects our ecosystems and is also linked to air pollution,” he said.
Around 3.47 million tonnes per annum of plastic waste was generated by India during 2019-20. Minister of State in India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, had told the Lok Sabha. Various manufacturing industries across the globe produce 400 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. The packaging industry is the largest contributor, the report claims.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked people to use non-plastic bags.
“We have seen that polythene bags are also being used a lot for packing and packaging during festivals. The harmful litter of polythene on the festivals observing cleanliness is also against the spirit of our festivals.”
“Therefore, we should use only locally made non-plastic bags. The trend for jute, cotton, banana fibre and many such traditional bags is on the rise once again. It is our duty to promote these on the occasion of festivals and take care of our health and environment along with cleanliness,” Modi had said in his monthly radio broadcast (titled Mann Ki Baat) on September 25.
The situation due to plastic pollution is equally alarming in Pakistan. Some experts have suggested replacing plastic products with environment-friendly biodegradable items.
“There are so many impacts of plastic pollution. 60-70 percent of the population of the country lives in 12 big cities. Plastic chokes sewage lines as it doesn’t decay. If sewage lines get damaged, they pollute the freshwater or jam the drainage system, which in turn results in health hazards. There is a direct health impact of plastic pollution in urban areas,” says Nadeem Ahmad, the climate change policy manager at British High Commission in Islamabad.
Ahmed says rivers are affected due to plastic pollution in rural areas.
“Plastic pollution also disturbs crop production. Plastic pollution is like air pollution. One may not realise its effect in the short term, but in the long run, its harmful health hazards are quite visible,” Ahmed says.
Naseer Memon, a climate change expert at Strengthening Participatory Organisation, another Islamabad-based NGO, says a lack of regulation is the primary reason behind the growing menace of plastic pollution.
“About two years ago, there was an announcement in Islamabad that there will be no plastic bags. However, today you can easily find plastic bags everywhere,” he says.
The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad