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Plastic ban calls in the face of an environmental crisis

A plastic-polluted river in India, Tamil Nadu

One of India’s leading youth politicians has called for a plastic ban to be enacted.

“The need of the hour is to ban production, usage and sale of plastic,” proclaimed Aditya Thackeray, who leads the youth wing of the Shiv Sena political party. In an earlier tweet, Thackeray said “banning production, use and sale of single use disposable plastic across the country [will] be India’s biggest push for the world.”

The call came on the heels of Prime Minister Modi using his Independence Day speech to call for a single-use plastic ban – an initiative already in place in full or in part in more than twenty states. Phasing out single-use plastic by 2022 was a goal articulated by Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan during his time as Union Environment Minister. 

The call for a plastic ban is an understandable one, given the magnitude of India’s plastic pollution crisis. Indians consumed 16.5 million tonnes of plastic in the 2016-17 period and it is estimated that eighty percent of the plastic produced in India is discarded as waste. This is despite official estimates claiming the country produces just 1.6 million tonnes of plastic waste each year – a figure analysts have described as “suspiciously low” given the country’s high levels of plastic output and consumption. A 2015 estimate by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) put India’s daily production of plastic waste at 25,490 tonnes. 

One issue could be poor reporting. A report put out by the CPCB earlier this year about the extent of India’s plastic waste output captured records from just fourteen of the country’s 35 regional pollution control boards. Hence, it is understandable as to why it may be difficult to fully appraise the country’s plastic waste burden.

What we do know is that more needs to be done to sustainably handle India’s plastic waste. Around forty percent of plastic waste goes uncollected. Delhi, which leads India’s cities in terms of plastic waste output (producing 690 tonnes a day), recycles a mere ten percent. In fact, CPCB figures posit that, in twenty cities, plastic accounts for more than 7.5 percent of solid waste generated. Actions taken by the Centre such as banning the import of plastic waste are certainly necessary and welcome, but more needs to be done to handle the plastic waste produced at home. 

Resolving the issue of plastic waste is of significant importance to the country’s environment and to public health. The unfettered dumping of plastic has a number of health complications. As such, it is important that the Prime Minister and other political figures are drawing attention to the issue – and of great importance still that their rhetoric translates to action.

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