Doctors of Tamil Nadu removed 52 kg of plastic from the stomach of a cow in Chennai recently. This innocent cow had consumed vast quantities of plastics waste and it posed a threat to its life. It is an example of the harm caused by the indiscriminate use and disposal of plastics. It highlights the gravity of plastic menace in the country. This news went viral on social media and internet.
Just a week ahead of this surgery, Prime Minister Narendra Modi collected plastic bottles on the sea beach of Chennai during Chinese President Xi Zinping’s visit to the city. That is why PM Modi had urged people to stop using single-use plastic bags in his address to nation from the rampart of the Red Fort. In his Independence day speech, he said that schools, colleges, municipalities, urban bodies and gram panchayats can collect single-use plastic bags from their areas and from October 2, 2019, we can take up the task of phasing out the use of single-use plastic bags in a big way. PM Modi urged industrialists of the country to invest in recycling single-use plastic. He asked shopkeepers to use cloth bags.
It is not just mute animals that suffer. Even the oceans and forests have become a mass dumping yard for plastic. About 80 per cent of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land. 73 per cent of beach litter worldwide is plastic. As per expert, one in three leatherback sea turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs. At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean. According to the United Nations, ingestion of plastic kills 10 lakh marine birds and 1,00,000 marine animals each year. The river Ganges alone took 1.15 lakh tonnes of plastic into the ocean in 2015. It is second only to China’s Yangtze. 90 per cent of plastic polluting oceans is carried by 10 rivers in the world. These rivers are the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Hai He, Pearl, Amur, Mekong, Nile and the Niger.
We can see plastic waste on sea beaches of Mumbai and sea shores of other coastal cities of India. There are many social activists who have dedicated their lives to clean sea beaches. In spite of this, plastic menace is not decreasing. We can see lot of plastic bags and bottles in sea water on Juhu Chowpatty and other beaches of Mumbai. These plastic bags and bottles are in sea for very long period. Since plastic is not biodegradable, it decays very slowly polluting soil and water. Therefore, sea water of Mumbai’s coastal areas are full of micro plastics. Sea fishes eat these plastic particles which harm them. These fishes are caught and sold in the market. Ultimately, human eats them and suffers.
The Maharashtra government on March 23, 2018, banned the manufacture, usage and sale of plastic bags. Many people approached Bombay High Court against this. High Court instructed to give proper time for its implementation. The state government gave the manufacturers, distributors, and consumers a period of three months to dispose their existing stock and come up with alternatives to plastic usage. From June 23, 2018, government authorities started penalising people caught using plastic products.
Environmentalists welcomed this decision but the plastic industry slammed the government and termed the plastic ban as retrograde step. Due to huge dependence of industry on plastic and lack of alternatives its success became doubtful. In beginning, this ban was effective. The BMC officers raided shopkeepers and seized large amount of plastic bags. They levied heavy fine on these shopkeepers and individuals caught with plastic bags. But after two-three months, they stopped taking action against guilty persons. With passage of time people started using plastic bags openly.
In India, per capita plastic consumption was at 11 kg in 2014-15, which was less than half the global average of 28 kg. India’s plastic recycling rate is 60 per cent. It is three times higher than the global average of 20 per cent.
It is remarkable that plastic starts degrading after 700 years and only fully degrades in 1000 years. This means that all the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet. Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide. Plastic bags remain toxic even after it breaks down. It doesn’t biodegrade, it photo-degrades. It means that after it degrades, it breaks down into smaller and smaller toxic bits of itself and contaminates the environment.
Mumbai-based lawyer and social activist Afroz Shah, who is engaged in minimizing plastic pollution in Versova beach, motivates people for cleaning project waste. But there are very few people like him. Problem of plastic waste is enormous. Their efforts fall short. Therefore, government should make effective law to control plastic menace. There is urgent need to launch mass awareness programme about plastic, its bad effects and remedy. Unless everybody is not educated about plastic pollution and its harm, we cannot control plastic menace effectively.
- 160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second
- A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute
- Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide
- Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes
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