Earth Up! | Plastic is a Pollution Problem


Earth Up! is a monthly column by Ayesha Mehrotra that intends to cover varied issues and solutions with respect to environmental sustainability in India.

Everything goes somewhere. Lost by you, found by someone else. Have you ever wondered where all your waste goes?

Let me fill you in. 90% of our waste lands up in oceans. Almost ALL of our waste is toxic for the water, soil and air because it contains chemicals which leach into the environments they land up in. I’m not here to scare you, rather engage with you in a conversation about the concept of sustainability and what really matters, INDIVIDUAL IMPACT. The biggest trigger of environmental degradation is WASTE. Every paper, foil, plastic wrapper or earbud you discard ends up going into huge landfills, spreading pollution to it’s surrounding environment. This burgeoning mountain of waste has reached levels of severe toxicity, ill-health and ecological impact.

So today, let’s talk about ways of reducing your waste on an individual level. Baby steps always lead to good and progressive targets. If we look at this situation in a micro-level scenario, it gives us a clearer idea of what our waste production looks like.

India produces an estimated amount of 1,33,760 tonnes per day (TPD) of garbage generated daily, and this is just an approximate figure given by government of the states and union territories in India. This includes an estimated 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste, of which 6,000 tonnes remain uncollected, unaccounted for, and littered. This boils down to about 3.7 kgs/capita/day in urban areas alone. If these numbers have got you thinking and you’re wondering what you can do about it, let’s discuss! Simple ways of eliminating toxic waste would be: avoiding plastic products such as plastic bags, water bottles, cutlery, and plates. These are a daily consumption in large amounts.

Plastic takes millions of years to decompose, and the first forms of plastic produced still remain in our soil throughout the world! Not so shocking, right? With recent movements and initiatives such as Plastic Free July and Beat Plastic Pollution, many people have taken pledges to eliminate all forms of plastic in their daily consumption practices, looking at the long-term perspectives and benefits of this pledge. Simple math being taken into account, we could then individually reduce an estimated 11-15 kgs per person annually! Imagine multiplying this elimination by about 70% of India’s entire population. The impact would be huge.

At a global perspective, let’s look at the facts, figures and estimates quoted with respect to plastic. Experts say that we are recovering just around 5% of the plastic bags that we produce. According to a research done by Ellen MacArthur Foundation in January, the total amount of plastic waste will be greater than the total number of fish found in our oceans by 2050. Further, this amount is predicted to increase ten times by 2020. Most of the plastic bags once used are thrown away as waste instead of being collected and recycled for later use. Very few plastic bags are recycled which is not healthy for our environment and human health in the long run. Plastic has reached even bath and beauty products in the form of micro-beads, which have toxic and environmentally hazardous effects on human and marine life. Despite pledging to recycle our plastic, most of this usually ends up in landfills and oceans, and breaks down instead of degrading in areas where they are disposed.

Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

There are countries that have already banned or even restricted the use of plastic bags such as China, Australia, Ireland and Bangladesh among other nations. However, Bangladesh and India have only banned those of over 5 microns. Yet, these countries still face the battle of single use plastic products as well as plastic in the form of packaging and containers. The simple solution to this would be to eliminate plastic completely, with better alternatives such as glass, paper and cloth. Despite this being a challenge for many global scale economies due to the cheap plastic consumption and liberal policy implementations on the same, a systematic removal of plastic will require massive changes with regards to production, consumption and policy.

Plastic has plagued our lives in several ways, and this has generated a major part of the solid waste our country produces. The only way we can look at reducing and eliminating this material is if we understand the requirement of removing it from our lives. The urgency is massive. We see stories and pictures of plastic almost on a daily basis through news, social media and articles highlighting massive environmental pollution across the world. Information and data available on plastic will help in further examining the issues arising in current and future scenarios, where our consumption of plastic even in the smallest of things such as wrappers and packets in products and even straws are not left behind. Each of this is contributing to a sea of plastic (literally!), where the rate of use is overpowering the rate of solutions for the same.

Hopefully, this column helps us unpack these concepts and gives us a better understanding of integrating environment with human action and impact, so we can live in a better, healthier and safer environment! Let’s all create awareness, build a base of environmental consciousness and understand the repercussions of our actions on the environment.

Ayesha Mehrotra is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.

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