Europe has successfully dealt with single-use plastic consumer products to a large extent. People are familiar with these because they are ubiquitous to daily existence – such as drinking straws, disposable glasses, mineral water bottles, plastic cutlery, polythene bags (India’s particular bane), etc. This is part of the upstream management strategy of pollution control. Most European countries have good waste management practices in place, with some countries actually turning a profit from reusing it in various ways. However, the booming tourism industry, in particular, generates enormous non-biodegradable waste. The pollution of the oceans has become the focus of special attention.
In India, the problem can be easily calculated as ten times more in terms of the overall impact owing to the, as yet, rudimentary measures taken to deal with this very complex problem. A ban has been imposed on single-use plastic in Uttarakhand and whether it will be successful will become known soon enough. With the growing economy and expanding conspicuous consumption, the situation is only getting worse. Owing to a lack of awareness among people regarding the adverse impact of plastic pollution on their lives, even the most basic rules on disposal of such waste are not complied with. The fundamental approach is – out of sight, out of mind. Once thrown away, plastic refuse is considered somebody else’s problem, even if it piles up in a vacant plot in the neighbourhood.
A major part of the solution lies in getting companies that manufacture such material to either stop doing so, or start using alternative bio-degradable material. In India, to even identify such products, make rules about them and, then, get companies to conform will take the usual decade. As such, about time work begins on this and, hopefully, some shortcuts can be found by duplicating what others have already successfully done. The battle against polythene bags, for instance, has been ongoing for three decades, but very little impact has been made. This is despite the fact that the harm they cause in a myriad ways has been well-documented. The worst offenders are actually the educated and well-off sections of society.
For a state like Uttarakhand, which depends greatly on the pristine quality of its mountains and rivers for development of its religious and leisure tourism, this very visible pollution has been a major problem for a long time. There is not a single destination that is not marred by the ugly sight of plastic pollution. Instead of managing to clamp down on the problem, many in the system are actually adding to it – such as producing sealed plastic cups containing Ganga water for offering at the shrines!
Thus far, there has been just talk, but very little action to deal with the problem.