Time to recognise dangers of single-use plastic
The use and disposal of plastics, especially the single-use kind, has penetrated most spheres of human life, becoming one of the biggest challenges facing the environment and the planet today. So, it is only apt that the theme for this year’s United Nations’ World Environment Day should be ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’.
Globally, 500 billion plastic bags are used annually, and a million plastic bottles bought every minute. India alone generates more than 25,000 tons of plastic waste, daily. Plastics constitute 10% of the total waste generated nationally, estimates indicate. Shockingly, half of this waste is single use plastic. The plastic scenario is truly scary and bodes ill for our lives, and our planet’s. Single use plastics are out-and-out ticking time bombs! Therefore, the clarion call issued by the United Nations deserves not only our rapt attention, but a promise of subsequent action.
As leaders in creative thinking, India is fast becoming a trendsetter in coming up with ways to avoid single use plastic. Consumers are increasingly using cloth shopping bags; they even prefer to carry their own drinking water. Such measures, though indicators of changing times, are hardly enough. It is time for consumers to drive a change upstream, and influence manufacturers to take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of their products. Those businesses that do, must be lauded.
India’s diversity is its biggest strength. The anti-plastic movement, though nascent, is not restricted to a single section of society. People from several walks of life, from board rooms, to schools and fishing vessels are making conscious pro-environment choices. Fishermen in Kerala collect the plastic that endangers the waters they fish in, and shred it. Construction crews then use this to strengthen the asphalt used to make roads. School children are doing their bit, too by encouraging hotels to ditch plastic straws. Eco-friendly bamboo cutlery is replacing single-use plastic cutlery. The world is changing slowly, but not fast enough. We must act fast, letting the Sustainable Development Goals become priorities, allowing them to shape policies, and individuals’ lifestyle choices.
Plastic pollution touches us more often than we realize. Once plastics enter the environment, they continue to influence ecosystems for decades to come- they clog rivers, choke birds, and make verdant forests uninhabitable dumps. It is not enough to extrapolate responsibility on to government machinery. People must recognize their duty towards the planet that nurtures them. Considerations of inter-generational equity implicates us, and makes us squarely responsible for the earth’s well-being. A Native American quote observes that “we must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and…for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.”
Keeping this in mind, let us, on the occasion of World Environment Day, pledge to be do our bit as caretakers of the planet. Let us initiate a change upstream so that individual effort can grow to become the concerted efforts of a global community.
Anoop Nautiyal is the Founder-Chairperson of Gati Foundation.