has emerged as one of the biggest plastic waste producers globally, next to only China, Europe and North America. To be precise, 60 cities in India churn out over 15,342 tonnes of plastic waste each day with Delhi topping the list. Scarily, 6,000 tonnes of this non-degradable plastic waste continues to be littered without being collected. If a survey of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and official data presented by the environment ministry to Parliament is any indication, plastic consumption and waste generation continues to be on the rise, threatening not just this country, but the Indian sub-continent. From plastic bottles, wrappers and packaging material to computer, mobile phone and automobile wraps, plastic consumption coupled with large-scale waste has become a menace. Though the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules of 2011 clearly stipulate that municipalities have to set up management facilities, there’s hardly any movement visible on this front. Thus India has turned into a plastic dump yard with 5.6 million tonnes waste adding up every year. This country has emerged fifth in the global pecking order with 11 kg of per capita plastic consumption in 2014-15. Apologists may draw solace from US topping the per capita plastic consumption list at 109 kg followed by Europe with 65 kg. China and Brazil follow with 38 and 32 kg respectively.
Its adverse impact on health, environment, pollution to streams and water bodies is a challenge of epic proportions.The latest research published in US-based journal, ‘Science Advances’ has estimated that 9.1 billion tonnes of plastic has been piled up by industry globally since 1950. It is equivalent to burying Manhattan under three km of plastic trash! Another study by the University of California has estimated that soon enough, the earth would turn into a ‘plastic planet’ with no respite from its waste in landfills, littered on land and floating on oceans, lakes and rivers. A recent World Economic Forum study has concluded that floating plastic would overtake fish in the oceans by 2050.
From India’s perspective, finding cost effective, technology-driven solutions to manage plastic will have to be prioritized by the government at the Centre and states. Can India ban all types of plastic usage in utensils, cups or plates like France has done in 2016? Even countries like Rwanda have banned use of plastic bags way back in 2008. Though India did stop use of plastic bags, serious gaping holes in implementing such a regime stares us in the face. Perhaps, Sweden could show the way in recycling plastic waste. Or, should India toy with a plastic tax to regulate plastic waste generation? Choices are many, but the challenge, as ever, is to take them seriously.