Burning Issues

Choked Earth

CHOKED EARTH

-Shivani Thakur

The incessant rains, which hit Mumbai, followed by recently caused floods in the city; the result was loss of innocent lives and damage to property worth many crores. If poor drainage system, almost 100 years old, was responsible for it along with mismanagement by civic authorities, another major cause of floods was Mumbai’s plastic bags choking the city’s drainage system.

The Maharashtra government announced the decision to ban the use of plastic bags across the state after reviewing the situation. The state cabinet felt the need to ban the use and sale of the commodity in totality. But is ban in few states the answer to the growing menace of the plastic bags?

India generates about 5,600 tonnes of plastic waste daily. Of which 60 percent is recycled into inferior products. The rest is tossed around to choke the environment. The use of plastic is not only limited to polythene bags or poly bags but also plastic milk, oil and intravenous fluid pouches. Plastic has become a part of each household, both in form of packaging material and household equipment. Eliminating plastic bags is a desirable objective. But is this the solution when plastic has invariably seeped into our lives.

Global wisdom suggests that it is important to look at the problem in multiple ways. The plastic bags not only choke the environment but also are hazardous to human as well as animal life. The food stored in poly bags gets contaminated with toxic dyes, which are used to give color to the bags, which leak. The plastic toxicity results in drop in sperm count, genital abnormalities and breast cancer. Dioxin, a carcinogenic by-product, is passed on through breast milk to infants. Before the government passed the specification of 20 microns thickness, the use of substandard and colored poly bags was the norm. A study conducted on their side effects resulted in bringing the 20 micron barometer to use. Their blatant use has not even spared the city animals. The disposal of garbage is done in plastic bags. The street animals like stray cattle and dogs eat whole bags as they contain food. This has resulted in them developing tumors in their stomach or in a worst-case scenario death due to blocked airways.

To eliminate plastic bags, we have to create multiple disincentives. A ban can only work if the implementing agencies deliver. Although states like Goa, Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal and Sikkim have effectively banned the bags, the rest of the nation still has a long way to go. In Karnataka the plastic waste is used for road construction. In Delhi bio-degradable plastic is mandatory for hospitals and hotels; but otherwise plastic bags thrive as their alternatives fail to compete. Besides, the plastic and polymer industry have manipulated emerging policy on plastics. Their contention is that waste problem is by consumers, as against the industry, who do not dump the stuff into the bins.

The allegations and counter allegations will continue, as both the producer and the consumer are too responsible. The answer lies in making the producer liable to take back the waste for recycling, although only an inferior product will result. Consumers should be offered a choice between plastic and its alternatives. Plastic like PVC that are suspected to be toxic should be phased out within a time frame. Incentives and support for alternative materials is essential. The need to establish state of art plastic down cycling plant for some type of non-toxic plastics is essential. The lesson to be learnt from Mumbai floods is not to wait for a situation to develop in each region before taking action but benefit from the Mumbai experience which is as an eye opener.

Photo courtesy-Times News Network

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NOTE: Use of shredded plastic waste acts as a strong ‘binding agent’ for tar, making asphalt to last long. The civic body in Bangalore has used plastic waste to asphalt over 300km of road so far.( example-Ring Road from Deve Gowda petrol bunk to Kanakpuraad 6.8km )

Over 140 km along 41 roads will be upgraded at a cost of Rs.140 crores under the Karnataka Municipal Reforms Project this year




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