Crying foul

Let’s admit it, we are addicted to plastics. A study conducted across 60 Indian cities by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimated that 15,342 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day across India and Chennai fares the second worst in this study after New Delhi. That is a lot of trash, considering that all of it is going to stay in the environment for thousands of years.

Plastics dumped into the ocean have converged to form large islands, the biggest of which, simply called, the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, is the size of Texas and is known to contain nearly 3.5 million tons of this plastics. Majority of the plastics found in the ocean are the size of microscopic planktons, mistaken for food by mammals, birds and even microscopic zooplankton. A majority of the plastic debris is single use disposable plastics and packaging waste – stuff we can easily do without and replace by making conscious choices. Choices like taking our own bags for shopping and refusing unnecessary packaging. The change should begin with us, yes, , but going by the story of plastics around the world, it is clear that citizens’ engagement is just one part of the solution; the larger responsibility lies with the policymakers and the industry that needs to work in tandem with citizens to address this crisis.

The city of Chennai has gone through its share of knee-jerk reactions, and, from time to time, announced several schemes to address the plastic crisis — the most recent one being gold in exchange for waste!

A larger challenge has been posed by packaging waste. Over 56 per cent of the global plastics production is dedicated to consumer and industrial packaging. Most of this is single use and ends up in our waste streams causing the crisis we face today. To address this, municipalities in the European Union are resorting to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), under which restrictions are being imposed on manufacturers to phase out unsustainable packaging materials.

The municipality of Cappannori in Italy is a great example of successful EPR programme, where the city worked closely with several businesses — including Lavazza Coffee to help identify and eliminate its plastic coffee capsules from the residual waste reaching its landfills, after high separate collection had been reached.

Real solutions, such as ban on plastic bags have always been brought in half-heartedly and then hastily withdrawn under pressure from the industry. A policy decision that will have to be taken sooner than later. The Tamil Nadu government can no longer avoid taking strict policy measures to curb the use of disposables.

We need to do what one would do to stop a tub from overflowing — turn off the tap.

Dharmesh Shah is a researcher and environment activist, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 9:42:22 PM |

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