Single Use Plastic Pollution in India – A hidden pandemic

Synopsis: COVID-19 pandemic paused and reversed India’s progress against single-use plastic pollution. Few necessary steps are essential to continue the progress.


Single-use plastics were in use in great quantities during the COVID-19 pandemic to produce gloves, sanitary equipment etc.  However, no attention has been paid to where the increased plastic waste will end up. India was progressing against plastic pollution before the pandemic began. 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to completely remove single-use plastics by 2022. The strategy calls for better arrangements to collect, store, and recycle single-use plastic.  
  • The UN Environment Programme along with the support of Norway and Japan took a multi-year assessment. They found out how plastic finds its way into riverways, and ultimately to the ocean. They achieved this through projects like CounterMEASURE.
  • National Geographic’s Sea to Source Ganges study tracked plastic sources in the Ganges river basin. This brought India and Bangladesh together to study plastic pollution.
Growth of Plastic pollution in pandemic times:
  • The pandemic reversed many of the aforementioned progress. Single-use plastics became more abundant. Plastic was used for masks, sanitiser bottles, personal protective equipment, food packaging, and water bottles. 
  • This plastic will eventually disintegrate into tiny particles called microplastics. Only 9 percent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled. 79 per cent of all plastic produced is present in the world’s landfills and in our air, water, soil, and other natural systems. 
Suggestions to reduce Plastic Pollution

Plastic is important because of its central role in durable goods, medicine and food safety. There are quite a few steps we can take right now during the COVID-19:

  1. The waste collection should operate at the same speed as the waste generation. Litter(paper, cans, and bottles lying in an open or public place) is a large part of plastic pollution. This generally ends up in Indian rivers. Improved planning and frequency of waste disposal operations can collect litter.
  2. The wastes should be separated and used plastics have to be found early in the waste-to-value cycle. So that the plastic remains suitable for treatment and recycling. It will make recycling much easier and more economically feasible.
  3. We need to encourage environmentally-friendly substitutes against single-use plastics. The government has to encourage business models that avoid plastic waste through alternative product delivery systems. 
  4. Plastic pollution should be considered as a truly society-wide problem. It is important for government, businesses, and civil society to coordinate to find solutions.
    • For example, UNEP and its partners are working with the Indian government towards these goals. They are working with researchers, enterprises, and community groups to address plastic pollution. 
    • The data created in this process will be helpful in policy framing and decision-making processes at the national, regional and local level. 
Way forward
  • The government has to strengthen the existing plastic waste management framework in India. Further, India has to develop a National Action Plan for Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in Rivers. 
  • Apart from that, India also requires an approach to reduce the manufacture of new fossil fuel-based plastics and developing and using alternatives.

Source: The Indian Express  

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