Milind Deora column: Maharashtra's plastic ban is just the beginning, more needs to be done for environment

The widespread use of plastic presents an interesting dilemma. A ubiquitous product, on the one hand it is utilised universally, across communities and industries, in electronic products and appliances, packaging, furniture, aviation, the automotive sector, machinery, and even life-saving products in healthcare amongst various other diverse sectors. On the other hand, it is single-handedly responsible for the rapid deterioration of our environment, water bodies, soil, and natural landscape.

While plastic is immensely useful in certain industries, it is equally wasteful and damaging in others. Most notably, single-use plastic products such as disposable straws, cups, and plates, and plastic bags commonly used by street vendors such as vegetable and fruit sellers, are some of the most harmful and unnecessary forms of plastic use in India. These plastic products cannot be recycled; they are largely trashed and dumped in landfills, and sooner or later find their way into the increasingly polluted ocean.

The extent of the worldwide damage caused by excessive and unnecessary plastic use is exemplified by the “Great Pacific garbage patch” or the “Pacific trash vortex” – a scattered collection of marine debris located between California and Hawaii, now believed to be three times the size of France, containing 79,000 tons of plastic in the form of 1.8 trillion plastic pieces.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Particularly threatening is the alarming quantity of microplastics in the ocean, which severely disrupt the marine ecosystem, including inhibiting the ability of several species to reproduce. The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2050, oceans will contain more plastics than fish by the pound, if we continue to produce, utilise and improperly dispose of plastic at predicted rates calculated on the basis of current statistics.

I have also been a witness to this rapid deterioration of our water bodies. When I first visited the beaches in Tulum, Mexico, they were stunning expanses of pristine water and sand. Four years later, in 2014, those same beaches were swimming in plastic.

Not all is bleak and hopeless. There is an increasing amount of awareness and activism against the wasteful use of plastic in India, and I personally know several individuals who are trying to facilitate change, if not on a large scale, then in their own small ways. I categorically refuse to accept plastic straws and stirrers in restaurants and coffee shops, and urge people to not store water in plastic bottles or to carry their own bags for grocery shopping. While we may be trying to protest the use of plastic through such actions, I do believe that at this point, it’s simply not enough. I believe that the world is far too late to effectively fight single-use plastic simply by generating awareness or personally sacrificing its use.

What we require is determined, large-scale, nation-wide action. Until someone invents the technology to ensure that all plastic is properly recycled, or can be converted into petroleum products again, it’s time for us as a community to collectively make the ultimate sacrifice and ban as many plastic products as we possibly can.

In that context, the Maharashtra government’s recent ban on the manufacture, sale, distribution, use, and storage of a variety of plastic items was welcome and necessary. However, merely a fortnight after this notification, the government has already succumbed to pressure from plastic lobbyists by exempting certain items such as milk packets and PET bottles from the ban, making it largely inconsequential. Moreover, the ban was merely a notification with no realistic enforcement or oversight mechanisms, and there is evidence to show that merely banning plastic rarely has any concrete impact.

Both the government at the Centre and the government of Maharashtra could perhaps counter the credibility crisis that they’re facing today by grabbing the bull by its horns and ensuring effective implementation of a blanket ban on single-use plastic without being swayed or pressured by the plastic lobby. However, until our governments can find the strength to unshackle themselves from external influences, it is up to each one of us to collaborate and build a movement in order to petition and pressure our elected representatives to champion the cause of a state-wide or nation-wide ban on single-use plastic.


Updated Date: Apr 14, 2018 11:46 AM

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