beat plastic pollution
Environment Op-ed Pollution & Climate Change

Here’s what You can do to ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’

This June, we celebrate one of the most important globally recognized days, the World Environment Day. Observed by 100+ countries, the day is marked by events across the globe to create awareness on conservation of our environment. This time the host country is India and the theme for this year is ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’.

Plastic is something which has ultimately engulfed us and we, humans struggle to get it out of our lives. As product of petroleum, invented in 1907, they gained popularity owing to their ability to get molded into any shape. Thanks to human beings, plastics today can be found in varied ecosystems. Be it the peaks of the Greater Himalayas, the deep oceans of the Pacific or even the guts of fauna, plastic today attains the status of being omnipresent.

Plastic today attains the status of being omnipresent
Plastic today attains the status of being omnipresent. Image Credit: UN Environment

Plastic in oceans and forests are choking flora and fauna. In fact, plastic trash is expected to exceed the fish population in 2050. Another new demon – Microplastics has rocked the world recently with its’ ability to enter food chain with the highest concentration of the pollutants to be expected in human beings as we at the top in food chain.

What is the solution for all these problems? One of the important solutions is to stop using single use plastic. The Government of the state of Maharashtra has announced an ambitious ban of plastic bags, water bottles and other disposable plastic items in the state after the state civic bodies started facing serious problems on garbage disposing and its management. Fine for violating the ban will be Rs 5,000 for the first offence, Rs 10,000 for the second and Rs 25,000 for the third offence or a three-month jail term or both. The European Union is mulling new laws to ban some everyday single-use plastic products including straws, cutlery and plates citing plastic litter in oceans as the concern prompting the action.

So, is it easier to stop using plastic if it is banned? No, mainly because we have got used to their luxuries and also plastic producing industries will lobby to prevent the ban. Banning plastic alone will not be the solution. Firstly, we have to develop alternatives. Speaking of alternatives, cloth and paper bags strike our mind first. But taking a step further, we need to turn waste into resource. Researchers at the Thanjavur-based Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology (IIFPT) have developed a palatable plate made of jack fruit’s horny pines and sticky core, which are normally thrown away once the sweet fruit is consumed. Imagine eating the spoon and plate after eating the main dish which is rich in protein and fibres, tackling the problem of malnutrition and waste in one go.

degradable plate made from jackfruit
Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology have developed a palatable plate made of jack fruit’s horny pines and sticky core. Image Credit: The Hindu

Next, we have to sensitise people to stop littering and segregate their waste. Nowadays the most popular eco-conscious effort is participating in beach cleanups. Our Indian beaches harbour tonnes of plastics and thermocol leftover by visitors. Beach cleanups are now a regular affair in cities like Mumbai and Chennai. Afroz Shah, a Mumbaikar with the help of volunteers cleared 9000 tonnes of garbage off Versova beach in Mumbai leading to olive ridley turtles coming to versova beach after 20 years. Farmers in kerala are now hauling plastics from sea and giving it to processing centres for recycling as their yield has come down drastically due to plastics.

When I had a chance to undergo a mountaineering course, we were given a special belt with a pouch attached to it which was meant for storing our trash such as chocolate and biscuit wrappers which can be disposed after we reach plains.

Another activity that is attracting youngsters is plogging. While the ‘plogging’ initiative – picking up litter while jogging or strolling was kick-started on a small scale in a small part of Stockholm about an year ago, it has spread across the globe like wildfire. The activity, apart from keeping us fit, also makes us more concerned about our environment. Isn’t this a cool thing? Plogging parties has been recently organised in Kodaikanal and Trichy. Indeed, we need plogging parties can be the new fitness mantra-both for us and our planet.

More focus also has to be on sanitary napkins with May 28th being the menstrual hygiene day. Sanitary napkins made from biodegradable material, menstrual cups should be promoted. Napkin destroyers should be made mandatory in schools, colleges and large institutions. Wet wipes are also dangerous as people flush it in toilets without any second thought instead of putting in dustbin. These are also devastating for water quality, aquatic species and environment.

Our future is in our hands. Next time when we visit a shop, we shall make it a habit to take a bag from home.  Let’s stop using single use plastic items like polythene covers, straws, lets promote recycling and let us stop littering. Like plastics, this June 5 shall not end with a  “single-use”. We shall pledge to save environment for the rest of this year, for the rest of our life time. Happy environmental day.

(This article was originally written for The Agraria, Agricultural and Environmental monthly e-Magazine)

Agraria Magazine

Ashwin is an Energy and Environmental Engineer. His goal is to create awareness about the sustainable way of living among masses. During his free time, he loves traveling and exploring nature, heritage, and culture.