Planet earth is drowning in plastic pollution. 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. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently gave a call for a mass movement against plastic use to make ‘Mother India plastic-free’ by October 2 when the country celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary. This must infuse a sense of urgency into the campaign at both the government and community levels. 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. Reaching the ambitious goal set by the Prime Minister would require municipal bodies, district administrations, gram panchayats as well as government and NGOs to work together towards ensuring adequate arrangements for collection and storage of plastic waste. There is a need for a comprehensive plan of action that would require initiatives on a decentralised basis by which single-use plastic can be reduced rapidly and then eliminated within a definite time period. The solution to the mounting problem of single-use plastic is not simple. The answer lies in creating consciousness and action for overall solid waste management because, with urbanisation, the volumes of solid waste have grown substantially. 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 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. With the Prime Minister himself driving the campaign, it is hoped that regulatory institutions and law enforcement agencies will perform effectively in this area.