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RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- ELIMINATING SINGLE USE PLASTICS


RSTV: THE BIG PICTURE- ELIMINATING SINGLE USE PLASTICS


Introduction:

            Govt. of India has laid great emphasis on eradicating single use plastic which has become one of the biggest sources of pollution. During his Independence Day Speech this year Prime Minister Narendra Modi had urged the people to take a pledge on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Anniversary on 2nd October to make the country free of single use plastic.

 

Plastic is a miracle material. Thanks to plastics, countless lives have been saved in the health sector, the growth of clean energy from wind turbines and solar panels has been greatly facilitated, and safe food storage has been revolutionized.

But what makes plastic so convenient in our day-to-day lives – it’s cheap – also makes it ubiquitous, resulting in one of our planet’s greatest environmental challenges. Our oceans have been used as a dumping ground, choking marine life and transforming some marine areas into a plastic soup. In cities around the world, plastic waste clogs drains, causing floods and breeding disease. Consumed by livestock, it also finds its way into the food chain.

Plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste globally, and much of it is thrown away within just a few minutes of its first use. Much plastic may be single-use, but that does not mean it is easily disposable. When discarded in landfills or in the environment, plastic can take up to a thousand years to decompose.

The good news is that a growing number of governments are taking action and demonstrating that all nations, whether rich or poor, can become global environmental leaders

  • Plastic is a polymer that was considered as one of the biggest breakthroughs made by man. It gained with it many advantages –
    • Easy availability
    • Low cost
  • Minimal weight
    • Could be moulded into any shape
    • Didn’t break easily and didn’t degrade easily
  • But, the advantage of not breaking and degrading easily has become one of the biggest cause of concern today. There is no way to dispose it off. It may take thousands of years in degrading even if it is burnt. It is thus, very dangerous for the ecology.
  • In 1950, global plastic production = 1.5 million Tonnes
  • In 2016, global plastic production = 335 million Tonnes
  • Types of plastic (based on size):
    • Macro-plastic: 25mm or more
    • Meso-plastic: 5mm to 25mm
  • Micro-plastic: 1 micron (0.001mm) to 5mm
  • Plastic flows into the sea in the form of:
    • Fragments as common microplastics
    • Plastic thread from synthetic fibres
  • Food items in the form of foam
    • Microbeads from soaps, cosmetics
    • Building and construction activities
    • Fishing and coastal tourism, etc.
  • Plastics are present in huge quantities in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Plastics in the form of polythene and polypropylene are present. Their consumption then kills the marine animals and human beings also acquire various diseases on their consumption of sea food.

 

What are single use plastics?

  • There is no central and comprehensive definition for single-use plastic, crucial for any ban to be successful.
  • Governments currently use various definitions. 
  • The problems caused by them were recognized in 2007.
  • It has been found everywhere ie right from depth of the oceans to the peaks of Himalayas.
  • Single used plastics are used once and thrown away.
  • They accumulate in the water bodies and choke the drains which lead to floods.

 

Environmental impacts:

  • While it is still unclear, some studies suggest that plastic bags and Styrofoam containers can take up to thousands of years to decompose, contaminating soil and water, and posing significant ingestion, choking and entanglement hazards to wildlife on land and in the ocean.
  • Due to their light weight and balloon-shaped design, plastic bags are easily blown in the air, eventually ending up on land and in the ocean.

 

Health and social impacts:

  • Styrofoam items contain toxic chemicals such as styrene and benzene. Both are considered carcinogenic and can lead to additional health complications, including adverse effects on the nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems, and possibly on the kidneys and liver.
  • Several studies have shown that the toxins in Styrofoam containers can transfer to food and drinks, and this risk seems to be accentuated when people reheat the food while still in the container.
  • In low-income regions, domestic waste – including plastics – is often burnt for heating and/or cooking purposes, exposing largely women and children to prolonged toxic emissions.
  • Illegal disposal practices of plastics often take the form of open burning, accentuating the release of toxic gases that include furans and dioxins.
  • Research has shown that in developed as well as in developing countries, littering of plastic bags and Styrofoam containers can lead to perceived ‘welfare losses’

 

Economic impacts:

  • Stranded single-use plastics create visual pollution and are increasingly becoming a priority especially in countries that rely heavily on tourism as a major source of GDP, such as Small Island Developing States.
  • For instance, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) estimated a $1.3 billion economic impact of marine plastics to the tourism, fishing and shipping industries in that region alone.
  • Styrofoam products present challenging recovery dynamics, making recycling – although technically possible – often financially unviable.
  • For instance, Styrofoam usually can’t be recycled locally but must instead be transported to a centralized plant.
  • In addition, 95% of Styrofoam is air, making it not cost-effective to store or ship for recycling purposes.
  • Because of the porosity of foamed plastic products, cleaning such products, which are often contaminated with food or drinks, is difficult and energy-intensive, further increasing the cost of recycling.

 

Way Forward:

  • Target the most problematic single-use plastics by conducting a baseline assessment to identify the most problematic single use plastics, as well as the current causes, extent and impacts of their mismanagement.
  • Consider the best actions to tackle the problem (e.g. through regulatory, economic, awareness, voluntary actions), given the country’s socio-economic standing and considering their appropriateness in addressing the specific problems identified.
  • Assess the potential social, economic and environmental impacts (positive and negative) of the preferred short-listed instruments/actions. How will the poor be affected? What impact will the preferred course of action have on different sectors and industries?
  • Identify and engage key stakeholder groups – retailers, consumers, industry representatives, local government, manufacturers, civil society, environmental groups, tourism associations – to ensure broad buy-in. Evidence-based studies are also necessary to defeat opposition from the plastics industry.
  • Raise public awareness about the harm caused by single-used plastics. Clearly explain the decision and any punitive measures that will follow.
  • Promote alternatives. Before the ban or levy comes into force, assess the availability of alternatives. Ensure that the preconditions for their uptake in the market are in place. Provide economic incentives to encourage the uptake of eco-friendly and fit-for-purpose alternatives that do not cause more harm. Support can include tax rebates, research and development funds, technology incubation, public-private partnerships, and support to projects that recycle single-use items and turn waste into a resource that can be used again. Reduce or abolish taxes on the import of materials used to make alternatives.
  • Provide incentives to industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition. Governments will face resistance from the plastics industry, including importers and distributors of plastic packaging. Give them time to adapt.
  • Use revenues collected from taxes or levies on single-use plastics to maximize the public good. Support environmental projects or boost local recycling with the funds. Create jobs in the plastic recycling sector with seed funding.
  • Enforce the measure chosen effectively, by making sure that there is clear allocation of roles and responsibilities.
  • Monitor and adjust the chosen measure if necessary and update the public on progress.

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