Does the plastic waste ban distract us from the bigger problem of solid waste management?
Plastic is everywhere. You start cleaning your teeth with a plastic toothbrush and a plastic toothpaste tube as soon as you wake up. Your furnishings, household goods, and clothing are all made of plastic. It is a unique material that combines lightweight, waterproof, and valuable qualities of flexibility and resilience. It is inexpensive and has transformed how we package food and consumer items.
India accounts for less than 5% of the world’s plastic use. However, consumption is rising, and between 2016 and 2020, the amount of plastic garbage generated per person doubled. While plastic garbage globally accounts for approximately 12% of all solid waste, it only contributes between 6 and 8% of all municipal solid waste in India, despite its rapid development. The quantity of solid garbage produced in India is shown in the graph below, along with the percentage of plastic waste.
If we continue to collect and process waste at the current rate, we would need a new landfill every seven years, the size of the Eden Gardens cricket pitch.
Single-use plastics (SUPs), which have a high potential for littering and poor usefulness, are currently prohibited by government regulation. But it doesn’t address India’s significant waste management issue. To make the producer accountable for collecting and recycling the plastic packaging trash they produce, we also have the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) guidelines. EPR regulations do not indicate that the amount of plastic trash produced in the nation would decrease, unlike the SUP prohibition.
It works by putting a mechanism in place to prevent used plastic from ending up in landfills or bodies of water. Given the volume of the trash, we must manage, it is imperative that all responsible parties—citizens, businesses, and the government—join together to find practical solutions.
Building a mechanism to have precise information on the garbage produced in India and the possibilities for recycling should be our first step. The State Pollution Control Boards feed data into the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) centralized site, which provides information about the volume of hazardous waste produced nationwide. Why not open up this site to all waste data categories and give the public free access? This will guarantee precise measurement of recycling possibilities and trash of all types.
In collaboration with nearby towns, Godrej manages several community trash management initiatives. We have used technology to foster accountability among stakeholders and transparency in the city’s garbage management. The quantity of the garbage, its movement from beginning to finish, and the level of service each waste worker provides daily may now be monitored by the contractors, urban local body officials, and supervisors. This has aided in quickly resolving immediate issues while requiring garbage separation from individuals and opening up prospects for waste recycling.
Nearly 30,000 crores of rupees in revenue might be made by recycling each year. Almost 1.6 million people are employed by recycling plastic garbage alone, and if we actively investigate recycling of other solid waste, we might create millions more jobs.
We must adopt the public-private-people engagement if we are to secure total waste management and investigate the potential in the process. Together with the government, the business sector can raise recycling and trash segregation awareness down to individual consumers. In many areas of Mumbai, the local government collects only domestic garbage that has been separated. The basis of scientific waste segregation, collection, and disposal is created by this method, which people and resident associations need to adopt.
This cooperative strategy also requires a powerful political push in the shape of strict laws prohibiting garbage disposal in landfills. Our landfills are not handled correctly, and the piles of rubbish frequently catch fire, endangering the adjacent homes. The Landfill Tax was introduced in Austria in 2015; under this legislation, dump operators must pay a tax based on the amount of garbage they dispose of and the kind of landfill. Additionally, the use of landfills for waste with a carbon emission rate greater than 5% was prohibited.
A comparable legal structure that includes sanctions for breaking the law and rewards for doing so is required. Our integrated community waste management in Pondicherry constructed a scientific sanitation park to manage garbage. The separated garbage is divided into numerous material categories and then transferred to suitable end-of-life solutions through various partnerships. The facility management assists in keeping track of material flow and provides ideas on how to cut waste and generate money for the sanitation park.
In the end, clearing up the enormous amounts of trash should be a shared obligation. Transparency, having recycling programs in place, encouraging businesses to develop innovative alternative packaging solutions, and raising consumer awareness of their plastic impact should all be prioritized.