As the world observes International Plastic Bag Free Day 2022, India is also celebrating the 73rd Van Mahotsav, the festival of forests weeklong, from July 1-7 with the ethos to save the environment and the mother earth. In the meantime, Manipur state in Northeast India is hit by a massive landslide, the most dangerous and devastating environmental catastrophe in the history that claimed several lives at Marangching in Noney district. Such a signal from Mother Nature has the deepest meaning.
Plastics invented in 1907 take 250-3000 years to disintegrate. Virtually, every plastic piece that has been manufactured will exist on the earth in one form or other. The country will impose a ban on the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale, and use of identified single-use plastic items, which have low utility and high littering potential having less than 100 microns in thickness from July 1, 2022. Any contravention will be punishable with imprisonment for a term of five years or with a fine which may extend to Rs 1 lakh or with both.
India’s plastics consumption is one of the highest in the world. About 60 per cent of plastic waste in India is collected — that means the remaining 40 per cent or 10,376 tons remain uncollected.
Single-use plastic bags can contaminate the soil and water, endangering humans and wildlife alike. Now plastic is omnipresent, from food packaging to our supercomputers, from educational equipment to life-saving medical innovations, from housing to clothing etc. Thus, we use the plastic products 24X7.
International Plastic Bag Free Day is celebrated on July 3 every year since 2016. This day gives an opportunity to remind us that every action we take and every bag we dispose of, affects the environment including the future generations. Plastic bags also affect the growth of crops, by hindering the process of photosynthesis in agricultural fields. Thus, it is all about environmental conservation and promoting the use of more biodegradable and eco-friendly alternatives.
The impact of plastic bags is not only the huge time taken in decomposition but addition of toxic substances and micro plastic into the environment. When plastic bags are burnt, they release dioxins, furans, mercury and BPAs into the air causing ambient air pollution. The other detrimental environmental effect includes animals, pollution of soil, air, water, blockage of channels, rivers, streams, and landscape disfigurement which we have seen in most of the hill states like Manipur.
The marine ecosystem in particular is suffering immensely as a result of plastic pollution. With plastics, every half an hour a seagrass meadow the size of a football ground is destroyed and the destruction is estimated to release around 299 million tons of carbon every year. Surprisingly, the total debris of plastic litter in the ocean today is more than the total number of visible creatures in the ocean water.
We have produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic since the 1950s and only 12% of them are recycled. 75% of beach litter worldwide is plastic. Globally 1,60,000 plastic bags are used every second. If these plastics are put one after another, they would go around the world 7 times for every hour and can occupy half of India.
Ninety per cent of plastic polluting our oceans is carried by the rivers and plastic is killing more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year. Humans are also not left out. At present, an average person eats 74,000 harmful microplastics each year which is equivalent to 2.5 kg in a decade leading to various health problems.
Production of plastic consumes eight per cent of the earth’s petroleum products. To make a single 1 litre water bottle, 162 gm of oil and 7 litres of water are required. Thus only for plastic bottles, 17 million barrels of petroleum are required annually.
Plastic is plaguing our planet. A plastic-free planet should not be only for the privileged, but should also provide solutions and alternatives for many who depend upon this cheap, light, and accessible material. The real campaign for plastic bag free should be started on a unit basis, from myself, my family and then neighbors and then our locality and ultimately our state.
Awareness is another critical tool for behavioral improvement on using plastic bags. Other actions include taking part in neighborhood clean-up efforts, voluntarily recycling of household waste, avoiding littering and illegal dumping of plastic bags. Our easiest activity is collecting and proper dumping of all plastic garbage from markets, roadways, beaches and rivers wherever we find it. The best solution to address plastic pollution is to change our mindsets to stop the throwaway culture with habits of reduce, reuse, recycle and educate.
Finding the ways such as to reuse the plastic waste for road black topping and making of useful home designs and other domestic products etc. are other encouraging options. Another good hope is the recently found wax moth caterpillars that breed and bait on plastics giving the hopes that the creature could manage the global problem of polyethylene and plastics wastes accumulate in the landfills and oceans.
Therefore, with the coming of the International Plastic Bag Free Day, let’s try to be a zero-plastic state so that our country can live in a waste free lifestyle in days to come.
(N. Munal Meitei), Environmentalist, email@example.com