Phase out single-use plastic
While single-use plastic should be curbed, a blanket ban on the labour-intensive industry can hurt the ailing economy
India has for long lived in denial of the environmental hazards surrounding its citizens. Water levels have risen, flash floods have devasted thousands, earthquakes have become commonplace in hitherto unfamiliar terrains, uncontrolled construction in sensitive zones have brought forth nature's fury, but we, as a country, have lived in denial followed by acute inaction. Therefore, it was a welcome Independence Day speech from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that pledged to act against single-use plastic from October 2, Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary.
It is heartening to see the Indian government finally making some much-needed announcements regarding the environment, used to as we are of hearing news of ecological devastation. Whether it is the metro rail car shed construction threatening to wipe out large sections of Mumbai's green cover in Aarey Colony or intermittent news of destroying the Aravallis, foam-spewing Bengaluru lakes or anti-green industrial activities—much of India's progress and development has been coming at the cost of nature and our own future. Holding up this bleak prism in front of us, the restriction of single-use plastic is the first of several steps urgently needed for the nation to go green. Corporates such as Goldman Sachs, Infosys, Flipkart, Samsung, RPG Group, Mahindra Group, and Godrej Group have already started efforts to eliminate single-use plastic.
Single-use plastic essentially means plastic that is discarded after it is used once. Those thin, white/transparent grocery bags, bottles, straws, milk packets, plates, cutlery etc. made of plastic qualify as 'single-use' according to the United Nations. India is now set to adhere to these strict definitions. It is about time that we start becoming more conscious about sustainable living. Carrying reusable glass or metal bottles in place of plastic, taking cloth or jute bags for grocery shopping, opting for environment-friendly material for packaging and in the F&B industry, would contribute towards sustainable living. While becoming conscious and aware is welcome, there are mixed thoughts on a complete blanket ban on single-use plastic given its ramifications on the Rs 2.25 lakh crore plastic industry that employing 4.5 million (according to the All-India Plastics Manufacturers Association). As per the India Brand Equity Foundation, the industry has 2,000 exporters and over 30,000 processing units, 85-90 per cent of which are small and medium-sized enterprises.
A complete ban on single-use plastic would make this labour-intensive industry deeply vulnerable, and that too at a time when the country is already battling slowdown. Forcing yet another industry into crisis when others are already reeling under the after-effects of demonetisation and GST compliances would be imprudent. Reports also indicate that India is hardly the leading culprit in plastic generation contributing only 4.49 million tonnes compared to China's 59.08 million tonnes and US' 37.83 million tonnes of plastic waste in 2010. In India, the lacuna lies in the proper segregation, collection, and recycling of waste and this is where proactive action is needed. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India generates 26 metric tonnes of plastic every day but 11 metric tonnes of plastic remains uncollected. Some Gurugram residential colonies, for example, have taken up the task of proper collection and recycling of garbage very seriously and invested in intensive training sessions for residents and domestic help. Ultimately, much more of these efforts will have to be made to ensure that India doesn't mismanage its plastic waste.
The images of dead whales stuffed with plastic are heartrending and there is no denying that plastic poisons the earth. But banning it completely is not as simplistic as it sounds. Plastic obviously, still has enormous practical use. It's been that necessary evil that brings down the cost of production, packaging, preservation, transportation etc. It's that cheap material that has since 1957 provided the best economical way of living life, doing business, and indulging in consumerism. As an industry, it provides jobs and livelihood to lakhs of people. Therefore, a more concerted effort needs to be implemented to wean citizens off the use of plastic where ever possible, bring in eco-friendly processes in business (come on, Amazon! You really don't need that much plastic for packaging) while ensuring that the plastic industry too gets adequately rehabilitated. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) stated that in 2015-16, the National Rural Road Development Agency laid around 7,500 km of roads utilising plastic waste. Ingenuous ways of using plastic along with better collection and recycling would be a step in the right direction without delivering yet another shock to the already sensitive Indian economy.
(The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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