World Environment Day 2018: For a plastic free future

The theme for World Environment Day 2018 is “Beat Plastic Pollution”, and it is a call for citizens to come together and combat one of the great environmental challenges: Curbing plastic usage. A sustainable way forward is minimising usage and maximising and recycling and reuse, says VIBHA SINGH. 

While plastic has many uses, common man has become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic. Nearly one third of the plastic packaging used escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging the drains and polluting environment.

The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates. Keeping this in view many government bodies and NGOs have come out with a different measures to tackle the menace.

Putting it to good use

Maharashtra Government recently banned products made from plastic and have asked consumers to pay more for everything: From packaged milk to beverages. Mumbai Metro has installed plastic crushers at six out of 12 stations. The crushed plastic bottles will be sent for recycling to fibre manufacturing companies and will be used as raw material for clothing, carpets and grocery bags.

Taking it a step ahead, at many places roads are being constructed from reusable plastic. Explaining this concept, scientist Rajagopalan Vasudevan says, “Using plastic for constructing roads is a cost effective method. It makes the roads durable and prevents recurring potholes. While a 1.5 km road has been constructed at Prabhadevi in Dadar, over 20,000 km of plastic roads have been laid at Tamil Nadu using this technology.”

The project is now being carried out at major roads in Maharashtra. This method is expected to help the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to prevent road damages due to heavy moving vehicles, as these ‘plastic’ roads can manage a load of 2,500 kilograms and also resolve the potholes issue.

Improving waste management

A team of architects, Jai and Ketaki Bhadgaonkar, and local civic activist Mohit Ramle, have come up with a plan to improve the collection and management of plastic waste in Versova and to also benefit the Koli community economically.  The first step in the process involves waste collection, after segregation it will be sent to Dharavi for recycling and reuse. Further steps will address livelihoods, such as the building of plastic boats and floating islands using waste, closed system aquaculture and a fish processing industry.

Shedding light on this, Ramle says, “The core idea of the project is to look at plastic as a resource and to develop and create a unique economy around the plastic waste which tends to flow through the creek into the oceans eventually degrading and creating an imbalance in the marine ecology. The objective is to derive a solution for a global issue of ‘plastic in the oceans’.”

Making best from waste

Rashmi Tiwari, architect has transformed thousands of discarded plastic water bottles collected from city restaurants into durable construction material and is planning to build toilets in rural areas. She has opted for responsible and sustainable construction using plastic bottles filled with mud. On an average 1500 – 2000 bottles are consumed per second in the city. Out of which only one out of five bottles are being recycled and the rest land into landfills or are dumped in oceans endangering animals, human beings on this planet.

“This initiative is like two sides of a coin reducing plastic pollution and construction of more toilets economically. Around 1200, 1 litre pet bottles were collected and filled with mud and used as substitutes for conventional bricks,” says Tiwari.

The objective behind the proposed toilet was to utilise unused plastic bottles and mud, which were available in and around the city in plenty, she said claiming that it would help maintain the cleanliness in the city.

A boon for farmers

Tons of plastic waste collected from residential as well as market complexes in Thane and Dombivali areas by NGO Urjaa is being sent to Pune-based plant Rudra Enviornmental Solution (India) Ltd to make poly fuel. The plant recycles the waste into poly-fuel, which is very much useful for farmers living in the hinterland of Maharashtra. The plastic waste includes milk pouches, oil containers, shower curtains and household plastic.

A spokesperson of the NGO said, “We starting collecting plastic waste in December 2016 from houses in Dombivali, Thane, Andheri, Malad, Bhandup and Mulund. After that we started awareness sessions in school, colleges, housing societies, and institutions to encourage them not to use plastic bags. We collect the plastic once in 40 days.”

Carry your own bags

Many individuals and NGOs have started taking out drives for reducing the usage of plastic bags in daily life. Green Yatra alongwith women in Anushaktinagar have conducted  campaigns to create awareness about plastic waste. The volunteers of the NGO have been distributing eco-friendly bags among people to encourage them to avoid the use of plastic bags. Pradeep Tripathi, founder of Green Yatra said, “We are going to the housing societies and asking them to give us the plastic waste and in return we are giving them cloth bags. It is everyone’s responsibility to come together to support Maharashtra Government plastic ban for a green, plastic free Mumbai and Maharashtra.”

How are countries dealing with the problem?

Rwanda: This developing country in Africa is plastic bag free since 2008. The country implemented a complete ban on plastic bags while other countries around the world were just starting to impose taxes on plastic bags.

France: The country passed a ‘Plastic Ban’ law in 2016 to fight the growing problem of plastic pollution in the world which states all plastic plates, cups, and utensils will be banned by 2020 and cutting the usage of plastic bags in the country by half by 2025.

China: In 2008 the government came out with a law which made illegal for stores (small or big vendors) to give out plastic bags for free. In just two years usage of plastic bags dropped by a whopping 50%.

Sweden: Known as one of the world’s best recycling nations. They follow the policy of ‘No Plastic Ban, Instead More Plastic Recycling.’

Ireland: The country passed a plastic bag tax in 2002 which means that consumers would have to actually purchase bag and it was so high that within weeks of its implementation there was a reduction of 94% in plastic bag use.

How you can contribute?

  • Bring your own shopping bags to the supermarket
  • Pressure food suppliers to use non-plastic packaging
  • Avoid buying packaged drinking water (carry your own water bottles)
  • Refuse plastic cutlery
  • Pick up any plastic you see the next time you go for a walk on the beach or road

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