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Managing microplastic pollution in India

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation

 

Source: DTE

 Context: Microplastic pollution – a significant environmental problem, has not attracted much attention in India.

 

Microplastics:

  • These are tiny plastic particles (less than 5 mm long) that result from both commercial product development (microbeads in personal care products, synthetic fibres from clothing, etc) and the breakdown of larger plastics.
  • They are found everywhere, from terrestrial ecosystems to freshwater rivers, lakes, ponds, estuaries, seas and oceans, even in Antarctica.

 

Threats posed by microplastics:

  • Microplastics are not only toxic for the ecosystems but also act as vectors to transport other toxic chemicals in the aquatic ecosystems.
  • As a pollutant, microplastics are a significant environmental problem and pose risks to marine life, terrestrial organisms and human health.
  • As a result, many scientists are using a new historical epoch – Plasticene, due to the global distribution and abundance of microplastics.

 

Factors contributing to microplastic pollution in India:

  • Rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and population growth have led to increased plastic consumption and waste generation.
  • Inadequate waste management systems, including limited recycling infrastructure and improper disposal practices. For example,
    • Municipal areas in India generate 133,760 metric tonnes per day (TPD) of municipal solid waste (MSW).
    • Of which only 91,152 TPD waste is collected and 25,884 TPD treated.
    • Of which only 9,250 TPD plastic waste is recycled.
  • The vast coastline and numerous rivers make it susceptible to the transport of microplastics from inland areas to the marine environment.

 

Challenges India is facing:

  • Most populous country in the world with a population of 1.42 billion → Demand for water is rising.
  • Access to water plays a critical role in all 17 SDGs either directly or indirectly.
  • Misuse, poor management and contamination of freshwater systems have amplified the water stress.
  • Thus, achieving SDGs by 2030 is a mammoth task amid microplastic pollution.

 

Some SDGs that have direct and intricate relations with water:

  • SDG 2: Zero hunger
  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy
  • SDG 14: Life below water
  • SDG 15: Life on land

 

Steps taken in India:

 

  • The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules 2021 prohibited single-use plastic items by the end of 2022.
  • The permissible thickness of plastic carry bags was increased from 50 to 75 microns and then 120 microns from December 31, 2022.
  • Several nonprofits and civil society organisations (Bengaluru-based Saahas) are actively working to tackle the issue through research, advocacy and community engagement.

 

Way ahead:

  • Focus on the key targets of SDG 6:
    • Achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.
    • Improve water quality by reducing pollution and increasing water treatment.
    • Increase water-use efficiency in all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater.
    • Implement integrated water resources management to support the sustainable use of water resources.
    • Protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.
  • India should focus on improving waste management infrastructure, promoting recycling and responsible consumption and raising awareness among the public and industries.
  • It is essential to implement stricter regulations, enhance monitoring and research on microplastics and promote sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics.

 

Conclusion: It is important to note that managing microplastics is a complex task that requires a comprehensive approach involving government agencies, industries, communities and individuals working together to reduce plastic waste and protect the environment.

 

Insta Links:

Microplastic Pollution