Nation Current Affairs 21 Sep 2019 India’s plasti ...
Bengaluru environmentalist and director of Eco Watch

India’s plastic problem: The change begins with us

Published Sep 21, 2019, 2:47 am IST
Updated Sep 21, 2019, 2:48 am IST
Recent surveys have projected that almost 155 million tons of plastics are produced each year.
Different types of waste to be treated as a resource and set up an organized recycling sector that can create employment opportunities.
 Different types of waste to be treated as a resource and set up an organized recycling sector that can create employment opportunities.

Unprecedented growth & development, rampant urbanization and exponential growth of industries have led to severe waste management problems in almost all the cities and towns in India and in most parts of the world today. Increase in economic prosperity and growth in industrialization often give rise to conflicts with environmental conservation practices and green initiatives. Recent surveys have projected that almost 155 million tons of plastics are produced each year. However, in India, nearly 4% of municipal solid waste materials are post-consumer plastics as compared to United States, Europe and other developed countries - where it is nearly 10%. With nearly twenty thousand plus plastic-recycling industries in India with a daily capacity of 1,750 tons, India recycled almost 45% of its total plastic waste in contrast to other countries such as China (16%), the US (4%), South Africa (18%), and UK (9%).

With all possible methods and techniques in the world the easiest way to reduce the volume of solid waste is to burn it in a process called ‘incineration’. The fundamental advantage of a municipal waste incinerator facility is that it requires very less space / land. Another important advantage is that it can also be effectively used for generating power. However, there is one significant disadvantage of incinerating plastics in MSW - this method generates toxic gas emissions that contain heavy metals, dioxins, and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Heavy metals viz. zinc, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and mercury are parts of the waste stream and therefore, when incinerated, they reach the atmosphere and also persist with soot particles and generated ash. Hence this may not be the right solution to dispose plastic waste.

 

Another interesting aspect of plastics is the energy content of municipal solid waste, which depends on its composition and its moisture content too. And plastics have a high calorific value which can be compared to coal and fossil fuel. This is because fossil fuels are derived from petrochemical sources. Various studies have revealed that the production of plastic uses about 5% to 7% of the world’s oil as feedstock, as compared to nearly 90% that is used for heating and transport. And interestingly, most of this energy is recoverable in the form of heat, which can then be converted to electricity.

Therefore, in order to reduce the plastic waste management problems, each one of us needs to adopt the principles of waste prevention and segregation. However, even if the use of durable plastics need not be reduced, but we certainly need to use it judiciously and completely ban the use and reuse of single-use plastics.

Also, it is observed that if plastic compounds are made much more durable and if the general perception of consumers regarding the use and reuse of plastic and its appropriate segregation and disposal is changed, then the problem of waste plastic can be sorted out to a large extent.

In addition to this, there are several other constraints with respect to plastic waste disposal and management in India such as collection, segregation and transportation. Only if there is rise in awareness levels among the general public along with drastic and conscious changes in behavior and lifestyle, can there be an effective way to reduce the environmental repercussions of waste plastics.

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