Plastic Pollution

What is plastic pollution?

Plastic pollution is defined as the accumulation of plastic objects and particles in the environment (for example, bags, plastic containers, and microbeads) that endangers animals, natural and wildlife habitats, and humans.

Depending on their size, plastics that damage the environment are classified as micro, meso, or macro trash. 

Humans manufacture a great deal of plastic because it is inexpensive and long-lasting. The chemical nature of most metals, on the other hand, renders them resistant to various natural degradation processes, making them difficult and sluggish to disintegrate. These two factors have combined to make plastic pollution a serious environmental hazard.

Plastic pollution may have an impact on land, rivers, and seas. Each year, 1.1 to 8.8 million metric tons of plastic garbage are expected to be generated.

Some factual information

  • Plastic Demand: In 2021-22, India's plastic demand was 20.89 million metric tons, with a forecast increase to 22 million metric tons by 2023.
  • India manufactures 3.5 million metric tons of plastic every year, with a per capita usage of 25,490 grams.
  • Plastic trash creation: India ranks 94th in the world in terms of plastic trash creation per capita.
    • According to CPCB data from 2018-19, India generates 3.3 million metric tons of plastic garbage every year.
  • Plastic trash Recycling: According to the Indian government, 60% of the country's plastic trash is recycled.
  • Single-Use Plastic Ban: On July 1, 2022, the Indian government implemented a ban on single-use plastics, targeting 43% of plastic waste created by single-use plastics.
  • The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered all states and union territories to submit action plans for implementing the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
    • In 2016, India issued Plastic Waste Management restrictions, which replaced the previous restrictions from 2011.

Causes of the pollution

  • Single-Use Plastics: Disposable plastic goods are widely used.
  • Inadequate Waste Management: Inadequate Recycling and Disposal Facilities
  • Plastic packing: Excessive plastic packing of items.
  • Plastic trash created by companies and businesses is referred to as industrial and commercial practices.
  • Rapid urbanization leads to increased plastic usage and garbage creation.
  • Illegal Dumping refers to the improper dumping of plastic garbage in prohibited places.
  • Recycling is inefficient since there are few recycling facilities and recycling rates are low.
  • Microplastics are the result of larger plastic products disintegrating into small bits.
  • Plastic Pollution in Waterways: Pollution is caused by the entry of plastic into rivers, lakes, and seas.
  • Plastic littering is the irresponsible dumping of plastic garbage in public places.

Impact of pollution on the environment

  • Plastic pollution has a negative impact on ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Threat to Marine Life: Plastic trash endangers marine life through ingestion and entanglement.
  • Water Pollution: Plastic trash pollutes bodies of water, particularly drinking water supplies.
  • Land Pollution: Improper plastic dumping pollutes the soil and inhibits plant development.
  • Chemicals derived from plastic pose health risks to humans and wildlife.
  • Microplastic Contamination: Microplastic particles can be discovered in the air, water, and food systems.
  • Economic Costs: Plastic pollution costs money to clean up and has an impact on companies and healthcare.
  • Contribution to Climate Change: Plastic manufacture and incineration contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Plastic litter detracts from natural beauty and impedes leisure activities.
  • Plastics have long-lasting persistence, resulting in a cumulative environmental impact.

Addressing Plastic Pollution: A Challenging Journey

  • Inadequate garbage Management: Inadequate recycling facilities and incorrect disposal of plastic garbage.
  • Single-Use Plastic Culture: Indian society's strong reliance on throwaway plastics.
  • On a global scale, India contributes significantly to global plastic pollution.
  • Economic Implications: The costs and adjustments associated with India's shift to sustainable alternatives.
  • Plastic Packaging and Production: Increased packaging and inefficient production practices in India have resulted in a rise in plastic waste.
  • Microplastics and nanoplastics: These minute plastic particles have been found in Indian water bodies and soil.
  • Plastic garbage trading: Issues with controlling the illicit import and trading of plastic garbage in India.
  • Inconsistent enforcement of plastic waste management standards across India has resulted in limited policy implementation.
  • Indian initiatives in producing sustainable materials, packaging solutions, and waste management technology are examples of innovation and research.

Single Use Plastic

Single-use plastics, often known as throwaway plastics, are used just once before being discarded or recycled. Plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles, and most food packaging are examples of these goods. Up to half of the plastics we consume are single-use.

Its impact

  • Environment: It ultimately clogs drainage and river systems, litters marine ecology, pollutes soil and water, and causes open-air burning, all of which have a negative influence on the environment.
  • Disposal issues: They do not biodegrade; instead, they decompose into microscopic plastic particles known as microplastics. Plastic bags can degrade over thousands of years.
  • Human well-being: Toxins and persistent pollutants identified in some of these plastic goods enter human systems and cause harm to the brain, lungs, and reproductive organs.
  • Plastic material production requires a significant amount of energy. They need a lot of water to make their products. As a result, using plastic bags is not recommended.
  • Plastic bags wind up in the oceans because they are non-recyclable. They break up into tiny bits and are devoured by animals as they reach.
  • Interference with the food chain: Studies show that the chemicals have an effect on the biology and reproductive processes, resulting in fewer children and so interrupting the food chain.

India's Plastic Recycling Difficulties

  • Garbage Mixing and Lack of Awareness: A lack of awareness leads to the mixing of all types of garbage.
  • Mixed garbage makes efficient plastic segregation and recycling challenging.
  • Increased Transportation Costs: Because of its density, plastic garbage takes up more room and costs more to transport.
  • Recycled Plastic Product Acceptability: Myths and a lack of market acceptance of recycled plastic items contribute to additional plastic waste ending up in landfills.
  • Lack of Infrastructure and Government Laws: Manual separation of plastic garbage before recycling is essential; however, this procedure is hampered by a lack of infrastructure and government laws.
  • The unprofitability of Recycling Enterprises: Recycling businesses confront obstacles in terms of ensuring a certain amount of separated trash, technological know-how, and regulatory compliance, which leads to unprofitability.
  • Limited R&D expenditures: A lack of R&D expenditures stifles technical innovation, such as recycling Multi-Layered Packaging (MLPs) and low-value inputs for plastic recyclers.
  • Increased Plastic Demand as a Result of COVID-19: The COVID-19 epidemic has raised the demand for plastic-packaged food and groceries, as well as the usage of disposable utensils, complicating plastic waste management even more.

Efforts to reduce the use of plastic

  • NITI AAYOG- Bring Plastic Waste Recycling Model Under PPP Mode
  1. For the long-term management of urban plastic trash, NITI Aayog recommends using the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) paradigm.
  2. The MRF concept should be implemented as a public-private partnership, with private companies first funding it and urban municipal governments supporting it.
  3. The methodology assures regulatory compliance, optimises resource utilisation, and focuses on social inclusion and garbage picker protection.
  4. Waste segregation at source and formalisation of recycling units are crucial for adopting the MRF paradigm.
  5. Plastic trash management is a concern for Indian cities, necessitating several approaches for long-term plastic garbage management.
  • Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021
  1. India proposed a resolution on reducing single-use plastic product pollution at the 2019 United Nations Environment Assembly, recognizing the urgent need for the global community to focus on this critical problem.
  • Provisions Of Plastic Waste Management Rules
  1. Manufacturers, importers, and brand owners must handle plastic trash from their goods and set up collection systems and recycling facilities as part of their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  2. Registration of Producers: Plastic product manufacturers, importers, and brand owners must register with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  3. Deposit reimbursement programme: The guidelines allow for the establishment of a deposit reimbursement programme for plastic bottles in order to encourage recycling and prevent littering.
  4. Waste Hierarchy: prioritizes waste management options such as reduction, reuse, recycling, energy recovery, and disposal of plastic waste.
  5. Local governments set up procedures for collecting, segregating, storing, transporting, and processing plastic garbage.
  6. Recycling Objective: Aim to recycle at least 25% of plastic trash within a set timeframe.
  7. Single-Use Plastics: In specified regions or situations, ban or restrict the use of certain products such as bags, cups, plates, cutlery, and straws.
  8. Plastic Bag Thickness: On September 30, 2021, the allowed thickness of plastic bags will be increased from 50 mm to 75 microns, then to 120 microns on December 31, 2022.
  9. Registration: Plastic product manufacturers and recyclers must register with state pollution control bodies.
  10. Waste Infrastructure: Establish recycling plants and recovery facilities for effective plastic waste management and processing.
  11. Integration with the Swachh Bharat Mission: To promote cleanliness and effective waste management practices, plastic waste management initiatives are connected with the Swachh Bharat Mission.
  12. Regulatory authorities check, monitor, and enforce compliance, imposing fines for infractions.

Circular Plastic Economy

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines the circular plastic economy as a method aimed at decoupling plastic manufacturing and consumption from limited resource usage and environmental damage.

  • It entails designing, manufacturing, utilizing, and managing plastics in a way that encourages reuse, recycling, and recovery while minimizing waste creation and environmental effects.

India's Plastic Pact

The India Plastic Pact is a collaborative movement that brings together numerous stakeholders, such as corporations, governments, non-governmental organizations, and civil society organizations, to combat plastic waste and pollution in India. 

It is a localized version of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's worldwide Plastics Pact network.

  • The India Plastic Pact intends to promote the concepts of reduce, reuse, and recycling in order to build a circular economy for plastics in India.
  • It establishes aggressive objectives and pledges for its signatories to address plastic packaging challenges, such as raising the recyclability and recycled content of plastic packaging, minimizing wasteful plastic use, and supporting responsible waste management practices.
  • The India Plastic Pact is a framework for cooperation, information exchange, and collective action in India to create a sustainable and circular plastic industry.

Governmental Actions Taken To Support Circular Plastic Economy

  • Local Government Responsibility: The rules require the establishment of infrastructure for the handling of plastic trash.
  • Manufacturers are now accountable for waste management under the EPR Concept: Amendment Rules 2018.
  • Single-Use Plastics Prohibition: Amendment Rules 2021 prohibit some goods by 2022.
  • Plastic Bag Thickness Increase: Carry bag thickness will be increased to 75 microns in 2021, and to 120 microns in Multi-Layer Plastic. Hackathon 2021 is an event organized for students and companies to stimulate creativity in alternative and digital solutions for plastic waste management.

What more can be done with respect to the circular plastic economy?

  • Alternatives for Sustainability: Promote the 4Rs philosophy and buyback programmes.
  • Regulation and Incentives: Encourage the use of low-cost biodegradable alternatives.
  • Waste management has been strengthened by improving segregation and material recovery facilities.
  • Establish material recovery sites to market recyclable plastic garbage.
  • Using non-recyclable plastics for roads and energy recovery is one example of upcycling.
  • Design Standards: Set quality requirements for recycled feedstock products.
  • EPR Policies that Work: Enforce producer responsibility with urban development agencies.

Way Forward

Plastic pollution is a major danger to our environment, animals, and public health. We must address this issue through a variety of means, including increasing awareness, advocating alternatives, establishing waste management practices, and enforcing rules. We can reduce the effect of plastic pollution and aim for a cleaner, more sustainable future by embracing a circular plastic economy and taking collaborative action.

  • Raising Awareness: Educate and inform the public about the dangers of plastic pollution.
    • World leaders commit to "Beat Plastic Pollution" on World Environment Day 2018.
  • Promoting Alternatives: Before implementing prohibitions, consider the availability of eco-friendly alternatives.
    • Provide incentives, tax breaks, and assistance for alternative energy adoption.
  • Incentives for Alternative Industries: Implement tax breaks and other incentives to encourage the transition away from the plastics business.
  • Promoting the Use of Biodegradable and Edible Plastics: Encourage the use of biodegradable and edible plastics made from sustainable resources.
    • G20 ministers agree on a framework for addressing global marine plastic waste.
  • Microbeads Are Prohibited: Microbeads are prohibited in personal care items and cosmetics.
  • Swachh Bharat Mission integration: Include plastic waste management in Swachh Bharat Mission.

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