The plan to phase out single-use plastics by 2022, instead of imposition of a blanket ban, reflects a more cautious approach by the Centre in view of the concerns expressed by the industry associations and fears over possible economic disruption. While a section of environmentalists might view this as a climb-down, it must be pointed out that such a campaign can be successful only with the involvement of all stake-holders and through a sustained awareness drive focusing on the disastrous impact of the plastic use. Several States are already implementing ban on plastic carry bags, with varying degrees of success. In this regard, the initiatives taken by Telangana government deserve special praise as they focus on people’s involvement in promoting awareness about environmental protection. The plastic pollution is a serious public hazard. Despite its severe environmental consequences, single-use or disposable plastic has become a global addiction. One million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute across the globe, while up to five trillion single-use plastic bags are used every year. There are growing concerns over plastic pollution with a particular focus on oceans where nearly half of the single-use plastic products end up, killing marine life and entering the human food chain. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world is producing about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year which is nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. It is estimated that each year over one lakh marine animals and 10 lakh sea birds die from ingesting plastic.
Though enough laws and regulations are in place in India regarding sustainable practices for plastic use, the enforcement remains extremely weak. In a country like India, the issue of solid waste management, including efforts to eliminate single-use plastic, requires transformative change. First, the use of plastic bottles for drinking water can be eliminated only when municipal water supply conforms to the prescribed standards. Many cities in the world have achieved this outcome while India still has a long way to go. Meeting the 2022 deadline would require municipal bodies, district administrations, gram panchayats and NGOs to work together towards ensuring adequate arrangements for collection and storage of plastic waste. There is need for a comprehensive plan of action on a decentralised basis by which single-use plastic can be reduced rapidly and then eliminated gradually. A comprehensive waste collection, segregation and waste management eco-system must be put in place. While there is increased awareness in urban areas, the challenge is to find a suitable cost effective alternatives in tier II and tier III towns and remote locations. About 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day in the country, of which 40% remains uncollected.