Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Microplastics Pollution in Ganga


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Microplastic pollution

Mains level : Water Pollution


The Ganga is heavily polluted with microplastics at Varanasi, Haridwar, and Kanpur, Delhi-based non-profit Toxics Link claimed.

What are Microplastics?

  • Microplastics are plastics that are less than 5 mm in size but are a major source of marine pollution.
  • Untreated sewage from many cities along the river’s course, industrial waste, and religious offerings wrapped in non-degradable plastics pile pollutants into the river as it flows through several densely populated cities.
  • The plastic products and waste materials released or dumped in the river break down and are eventually broken down into microparticles.
  • The rivers finally transport significantly large quantities downstream into the ocean, which is the ultimate sink of all plastics being used by humans.

Microplastics in Ganga

  • They are non-degradable plastics that often entered the Ganga through industrial waste or packaging of religious offerings, its research found.
  • The density of population in the three cities also added to the problem because a large chunk of pollutants got directly discharged into the river by people living on the banks.
  • Among the three cities, the Toxics Link’s study found that sites at Varanasi showed the maximum load of microplastics in the water of the Ganga, as compared to the other two cities.
  • This might be due to cumulative downstream pollution as well as industrial and human activities.

On a global high

  • The researchers tried to compare the microplastics concentration in Ganga water with similar studies on other rivers across the globe.
  • It included the Rhine in Europe, the Patapsco, Magothy, Rhode in North America, and the Elqui, Maipo, Biobio, and Maule in South America.
  • They found the Ganga microplastics pollution was much higher.
  • This was in spite of a higher per capita consumption of plastic in the European countries, North and South America, as compared to India.

How does it impact people?

  • The Ganga is a source of water for not just drinking and bathing purposes but also for irrigation to a large extent.
  • Microplastics in river water, if ingested in humans or other organisms, can cause toxicity through various means.
  • Not only are these microplastics toxic themselves, they also have a tendency to absorb various toxins present in water, including harmful chemicals.
  • Although some of the effects of microplastics on public health are understood, a lot still needs to be done.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

Q. Why is there a great concern about the ‘microbeads’ that are released into the 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 fields.

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

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