Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

How India can face the tidal wave of marine plastic


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Plastic waste

Mains level : Need for plastic waste management

The problem of marine plastic pollution has reached a new peak. Hence it must be tackled from various perspectives. This article discusses some of them.

Plastic use in India

  • The Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Annual Report on Implementing the Plastic Garbage Rules, 2016, is the only regular estimate of the quantum of plastic waste generated in India.
  • According to it, the waste generated in 2018-19 was 3,360,043 tonnes per year (roughly 9,200 tonnes per day).
  • Given that total municipal solid waste generation is between 55 and 65 million tonnes per day, plastic waste contributes about 5-6 per cent of total solid waste generated in India.

What happens to Plastic Waste?

  • Only nine per cent of all plastic waste has ever been recycled.
  • Approximately 12 per cent has been burnt, while the remaining 79 per cent has accumulated in landfills.
  • Plastic waste is blocking our sewers, threatening marine life and generating health risks for residents in landfills or the natural environment.

Marine plastic pollution

  • Incredibly vast and deep, the ocean acts as a huge sink for global pollution. Some of the plastic in the ocean originates from ships that lose cargo at sea.
  • Abandoned plastic fishing nets and longlines – known as ghost gear – is also a large source, making up about 10% of plastic waste at sea.
  • Marine aquaculture contributes to the problem, too, mainly when the polystyrene foam that’s used to make the floating frames of fish cages makes its way into the sea.
  • The financial costs of marine plastic pollution are significant as well.
  • According to conservative forecasts made in March 2020, the direct harm to the blue economy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be $2.1 billion per year.

Threats posed to coastal areas

  • Enormous social costs accompany these economic costs.
  • Residents of coastal regions suffer from the harmful health impacts of plastic pollution and waste brought in by the tides and are inextricably linked to the fishing and tourism industry for their livelihoods.
  • Therefore, we must begin finding solutions to prevent plastics and other waste from polluting our oceans and clean them up.

Tackling the issue

The problem of marine plastic pollution can — and must — be tackled from a range of perspectives. Some of the solutions are as follows:

1.Designing a product: Identifying plastic items that can be replaced with non-plastic, recyclable, or biodegradable materials is the first step. Find alternatives to single-use plastics and reusable design goods by working with product designers.

2.Pricing: Plastics are inexpensive because they are made with substantially subsidized oil and may be produced at a lower cost, with fewer economic incentives to employ recycled plastics.

3.Technologies and Innovation: Developing tools and technology to assist governments and organizations in measuring and monitoring plastic garbage in cities. ‘Closing the loop’ project of the UN assists cities in developing more inventive policy solutions to tackle the problem. A similar approach can be adopted in India. 

4.Promoting a plastic-free workplace: All catering operations should be prohibited from using single-use plastics. To encourage workers and clients to improve their habits, all single-use goods can be replaced with reusable items or more sustainable alternatives.

5.Producer responsibility: Extended responsibility can be applied in the retail (packaging) sector, where producers are responsible for collecting and recycling products that they launch into the market.

6.Municipal and community actions: Beach and river clean-ups, public awareness campaigns explaining how people’s actions contribute to marine plastic pollution (or how they may solve it) and disposable plastic bag bans and levies.

7.Multi-stakeholder collaboration: Government ministries at the national and local levels must collaborate in the development, implementation and oversight of policies, which includes participation from industrial firms, non-governmental organisations and volunteer organisations. Instead of acting in silos, all these stakeholders must collaborate and synchronise with one another.

Way forward

  • Solving the problem of marine plastic involves a change in production and consumption habits, which would help meet the SDGs.
  • Apart from the solutions mentioned above, the government can take several steps to combat plastic pollution.
  • Identifying hotspots for plastic leakage can assist governments in developing effective policies that address the plastic problem directly.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q.Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into environment? (CSP 2019)

(a) They are considered harmful to marine ecosystems.

(b) They are considered to cause skin cancer in children.

(c) They are small enough to be absorbed by crop plants in irrigated fi elds.

(d) They are often found to be used as food adulterants.

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