Detox from Plastic

Up to 5 trillion plastic bags are globally used every year. Of this, at least 13 million are disposed into the ocean

It is freaky how many lives have been lost due to thunderstorms that raged across India last month - 250 lives and counting. Parts of northern, eastern, and southern India witnessed killer storms that ravaged lives and properties. Severe winds, fatal lightning strikes, falling trees and homes, the storms left behind destruction and tears. If this is not a result of climate change, then what is? Rampant felling of trees, unchecked air and water pollution, excessive use of non-degradable materials such as plastic, are threatening to destroy our environment.
India is the global host for 2018 World Environment Day. Even as we have taken significant steps towards reducing our contribution to the global carbon footprint, lots more needs to be done on the ground. Indian cities dominate the global air pollution list. 11 out of the 12 most polluted cities on the World Health Organisation (WHO) list belong to us. For many months in the year, cities such as Delhi are transformed into a gas chamber. The short and long-term effects on health are debilitating. And it is not just air pollution, sewage and industrial effluents are other hazardous propositions that routinely pollute our water bodies. Remember the frothing Bellandur lake in Bengaluru that caught fire? Toxic foam flying on the Bengaluru roads even as bikes and cars whizzed past are horrific reminders of how poorly we are managing our waste. In Kolkata, a city blessed with small water bodies, the onslaught of plastic chokes the resources. Sound pollution in many cities is as harmful as vehicles pay no attention and have zero awareness of the dangers of too much noise.
This year, 'Beat Plastic Pollution' is the global theme and India has a long road to traverse. Globally too, the use of plastic is worrying. UN Environment shared that up to 5 trillion plastic bags are globally used every year. Of this, at least 13 million are disposed into the ocean at the rate of a full garbage truck every minute! In the last 10 years, more plastic was produced than in the entire last century. India's plastic challenge is very real. We are one of the global leaders in producing plastic and our domestic consumption, too, is alarmingly high, threatening to touch 20 million tonnes per annum. The plastic lobby is a powerful one to beat. There are over 2,000 exporters of plastic with more than 30,000 processing units, 85-90 per cent of which are small and medium-sized enterprises. The sector generates about 4 million jobs. Without a proper plan and alternative employment and business strategies for this huge sector, the battle against plastics will be a losing one.
Plastic is useful and there is no denying that; even the UN Environment Chief Eric Solheim recently agreed. But the ways that we use plastic has to become more sustainable. UN Environment recommends a ban on single-use plastic. The flimsy plastic bags that shopkeepers hand out or the plastic spoons and forks at public events that are thrown away after a single use are often found at the bottom of the soil and in water resources polluting the environment. Better recycling and more awareness are as usual the only tools we have at hand to fight the plastic menace.
At a recent panel discussion that I was moderating, a speaker from the plastic industry waxed eloquent about the voracious growth of the industry. He spoke nothing of the environmental hazards. Some listeners in the audience squirmed in their seats, few aired their reservations on the appropriateness of tom-toming plastic production at a time when plastic has been deemed one of the biggest environmental threats. These 'few' people are alone in a crowd that still does not fully comprehend the destructive effects of plastic and for that matter, any other pollutant. Surely, an old-fashioned shopping bag carried from home could replace the numerous plastic bags given by the shopkeeper. The onus is on us to question what we use in our daily lives and how we dispose it. The onus is on us to detox from plastic.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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