Plastic disposal in India: The long road ahead

Updated - January 28, 2020 01:29 pm IST

Published - January 27, 2020 09:02 pm IST

From our tooth brushes to our debit cards, most of what we touch today is plastic. Undeniably, plastic is the backbone of globalisation, the enabler of our modern lives. But a flip of the coin reveals the ugly side of plastic that we all must deal with - the 26000 tonnes of plastic that our country generates every day, nearly 10,000 tonnes of which goes uncollected.

Despite the government's avowal to eliminate single use plastic products by 2022, policy implementation remains a challenge. The packaging industry, online delivery apps and industrial plastic waste continue to add to the conundrum. State bans on plastic, which commenced with Sikkim in 1998, have done a great job in bringing down the use of plastic but the real challenge stays at the used plastic management level. Stop treating plastic as waste and treat it as a recyclable resource like we treat newspaper.  

At less than 11 kg, India’s per capita plastic consumption is nearly a tenth of the US, at 109 kg. And yet, our metros continue to suffer flooding caused by drains choked by used plastic, fish and animals continue to die in the country, gagging on inadvertent plastic consumption. The onus now lies on us, the citizens, to do our bit to save the planet from getting choked by untreated plastic. Here's how we can adopt some basic lifestyle changes that will help clean up the environment, a step at a time.

Change your habits

For starters, respect the ban on low density micron plastic bags if it is applicable in your state. Even otherwise, start by refusing to accept thin plastic bags for all your groceries and vegetables. Carry cloth shopping bags to the market. Opt for the 'no packaging' options being offered by e-tailers or choose to forgo the plastic cutlery that inevitably turns up with your food delivery. Many conscious industries are now going in for minimal single use plastic in their packaging. Show your support by encouraging others, particularly the younger generation, to be eco-sensitive.

Remember to segregate

Milk pouches, plastic carry bags, bread wrappers and used shampoo bottles - all end up in the same bin with organic waste. Most municipal agencies are now charged with maintenance of separate bins for housing societies for wet and dry garbage. So remember to separate vegetable peels and fish bones from your bread wrappers. Plastic bottles and all other items can be cleaned and stored separately or they can also be sold to the kabadiwala who takes it to a recycling plant, or given away to voluntary organisations who are happy to come to your doorstep to pick up plastic waste on a regular basis. Used milk pouches, rinsed and dried, will soon fetch a cash discount on your next purchase, if some state governments have their way. Keep yourself updated on news that helps save your immediate environment. Oh, and remember to make compost from all your organic waste - it comes in handy in maintaining that kitchen garden!

Reuse, recycle; upcycle

Traditionally, Indians have been known to re-use most products - PET water bottles, plastic shopping bags and plastic containers. With the rising use of single -use plastic however, the tendency to dispose of plastic products when the new one arrives has meant that much of discarded plastic ends up in the bin, or often, on the wayside.


Here's how you can harness another of India's traditional informal economy - that of the kabadiwalas, who pick up disposed plastic and send it to the relevant factories for recycling. Housekeeping staff in housing societies is now trained to send segregated garbage to the proper agencies so that it can be recycled. Apart from online outfits that offer to collect your disposed plastic, there are entrepreneurs who are using this plastic to create employment among poorer sections of society, and creating useful products like furniture, toys and even shirts from the yarn that upcycled plastic yields.

Essentially, all kinds of plastic that is disposed can be turned into a useful product after recycling. The possibilities of plastic bags, bottles and containers turning into sturdy products for home and industrial use are immense. For instance, high density polyethylene can be recycled to form the raw material for plastic bottles for household cleaners and shampoos. Garden hoses and traffic cones these days come from recycled polyvinyl chloride. Recycled polysterene is used in making packing cartons and most trash bags now are made from recycled plastic too. Carpets, cutting boards, colanders and containers – the list of products that use different kinds of re-used plastic is growing by the day!


Spread the word

Plastic is here to stay, but if we can make sure that we discard it properly, the planet can continue reaping the benefits of this marvellous human innovation for several more centuries. Inculcating the right spirit about plastic is the need of the hour. Make sure your neighbours, colleagues and friends follow the right ways of segregating and disposing of plastic products. It is the younger generations, who have grown up without the knowledge of alternatives to plastic that need to be educated about more viable alternatives like cloth bags instead of shopping bags.

A small step can save the planet!

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