PLASTIC. Designed to be an inexpensive, durable alternative to other materials, such as pewter, glass or ceramics that dent or break. No one anticipated the ramifications of a synthetic material that could seemingly last forever, would actually last forever.

As scientists innovated the composition and society found more and more uses for the material, its disposability increased, as did the landfills and flotsam. And burning plastic waste to get rid of it just pollutes the air, land and water.

Did you know that among the top 10 rivers that carry 90% of the plastic waste to the world’s oceans is the Meghna, Brahmaputra and Ganges river system as they join and flow in to the Bay of Bengal?

But, it’s not just the environment at risk. As plastic degrades, it gets smaller and smaller and those tiny particles often end up on our dinner plate as farm animals and fish consume them. These same particles are also found in most of the world’s tap water. Litter also leads to clogged sewage and drains, which provide ideal breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes and pests. This also contributes to flooding and affects soil quality.

However, we’re happy to report that awareness is finally leading to action.

In countries where tap water is drinkable, people still buy an excessive amount of bottled water. In London, every adult buys 175 single-use bottles a year on average. This has led to the launch of Refill London – a campaign for local businesses and drinking fountains/bottle refill points to provide free drinking water.

More than 50 countries recently pledged to reduce plastic pollution – India committed to eradicating all single-use plastic by 2022 and has had a national ban in place since 2016, with its earliest local policies against plastic usage dating back to 1998.

Numerous Indian cities over the last few months have announced green initiatives, working towards the significant reduction of plastic and alternative ways to discard urban waste. 

  • As of April, 25 Indian states/union territories had some form of ban on polythene carry bags – using them can induce fines of up to INR25,000 and even jail time for storage and distribution.
  • Partial bag bans are included in parts of Odisha, religious and historical sites in West Bengal, Gandhi Nagar in Gujarat, Goa, and several districts in Kerala during pilgrimage season.
  • In June, Tamil Nadu banned plastic, including the manufacture and sale of plastic paper, cups, water sachets, straws, and non-biodegradable carry bags.
  • Maharashtra also finally enforced its ban on single-use plastic in June. And a new plant in Thane will be able to convert up to 800 tonnes of waste a day to energy and electricity and make fly-ash bricks and fertilisers from residue created from the process.
  • Nedumgandam panchayat in Kerala has perfected a way to not only get rid of plastic waste, but also make money and improve infrastructure. They sell their trash to companies producing bitumen used to lay roads throughout the sate.
  • Another Kerala initiative lets people refill water bottles at Thiruvananthapuram hotels for free.
  • As of last Friday, Bhagalpur, Bihar instituted measures to try to ensure implementation of their plastic ban, including penalties and legal action against businesses using plastic carry bags.

However, it’s not just enough to prohibit plastic bags, there must also be a cultural shift in behaviour. Without consumer buy-in, many well-meaning policies fail.

Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha unsuccessfully attempted to ban and replace plastic bags, plates and cups more than 15 years ago with traditional plantain and palm leave products.

Despite a ban on polythene bags in Jammu & Kashmir, many shopkeepers weren’t informed and the municipal commissioner of Srinagar noted that fining shopkeepers and vendors for selling goods in bags but ignoring customers carrying purchases in these same bags is counterproductive. 

This New Year let’s all make an oath to be green warriors for your communities. Here are some simple ways to get started. 

Don’t litter – it can take one plastic bottle 450+ years to decompose and a plastic bag up to 1,000 years! Instead, pick up trash when you’re out walking.

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