World Environment Day: #BeatPlasticPollution before it beats us

Lo and Behold. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

Like any other place on the globe, Kashmir is not isolated from the issues of plastic pollution. Being situated in an ecologically fragile zone makes the problem much more difficult to ignore.

The year 2023 will mark the 50th edition of World Environment Day (WED). Celebrated on June 5 every year, the day is used to create awareness and mobilise action towards growing environmental concerns.

A different theme is selected every year for WED in keeping with pressing issues of the times. The theme for WED 2023 is #BeatPlasticPollution. 

There couldn’t probably have been a better theme than this in the 50th year of WED. The growing concerns of plastic pollution pose a threat to one and all, and the time has come when every single person thinks of and acts towards a solution to the problem.

If we take a look at the way things are going, it seems that the boundary lines have been blurred when we think of whether to consider plastic pollution as a global, regional or local problem. There is no corner of earth that is free from the menace.

Global scenario

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than 400 million tonnes of plastic are produced in the world every year. Almost half of this is designed to be used only once, and out of that half also, less than 10 per cent is recycled. 

The UNEP further says that two-thirds of all plastic produced becomes waste within a short span of time after production. Besides polluting land and water, the plastic ultimately finds its way into the human food chain. 

Nightmare in snowland. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

It’s estimated that approximately 19-23 million tonnes of plastic end up in lakes, rivers and seas every year. Besides being an eyesore, the plastic poses a severe threat to the aquatic ecosystem.

Research suggests that almost eight million tonnes of plastic waste reach the ocean every year, and the number only keeps growing with time. A study conducted in 2014 found that there was one kg of plastic for every five kg of fish in the ocean. It’s estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish.

It’s astonishing to know that almost one million plastic bags are used around the world every minute. The number of plastic bags used every year varies between 500 billion and one trillion. Reports suggest that human consumption of plastic is expected to triple by 2025.

Plastic waste produced globally is set to almost triple by 2060, with about half ending up in landfill and under a fifth recycled, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Wrapping up auspicious occasion. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

Of late, microplastics have emerged as a major cause of concern for all. In simple terms, microplastics are small particles of plastic which can be less than five millimetres in diameter. These particles find their way into the ocean from marine plastic litter breaking down, run-off from plumbing, leakage from production facilities and other sources.

Microplastics have toxic effects when ingested by marine life such as birds, fish, mammals and plants, and can even lead to genetic manipulation. In addition to entering the food chain through sea food, people can inhale microplastics from the air, ingest them through water and absorb them through the skin. Microplastics have been found in various human organs including the placenta of newborn babies.

India picture

The picture in India is as grim as anywhere in the world. According to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), India’s consumption of plastic was 61,000 tonnes in 1996. The figure grew to 85,000 tonnes in 2007 and was as high as 1,78,00,000 tonnes in 2017.

CPCB figures also reveal that the recycling rates in India are far below international standards. The figures stand at 27 per cent for packaging paper, 60 per cent for plastics and 20-25 per cent for metals. The recycling rate in some Scandinavian countries has reached as high as 90 per cent.

Bottle battalion. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

As per 2017-18 estimates by the CPCB, 26,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in India per day. Out of this, only about 15,600 tonnes end up getting recycled. This means that around 9,400 tonnes of plastic waste per day is uncollected, littered and unprocessed.

Kashmir situation

Like any other place on the globe, Kashmir is not isolated from the issues of plastic pollution. Being situated in an ecologically fragile zone makes the problem much more difficult to ignore.

According to a senior scientist of the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board, the region produces 51,710.6 tonnes of plastic waste every year. This figure was quoted by him in an interview given to a media outlet in February 2023. 

Burden on boat. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

Of the two JK divisions, Kashmir generates 31,375.6 tonnes whereas Jammu generates 20,335 tonnes of plastic waste per annum. The official in the interview said that most of this ends as litter due to lack of proper collection and a “throw away culture” of plastic that has developed among people in the recent past.

Though the use of single-use plastics is banned in the region since March 2019, the results are far from satisfactory. According to the 2019-20 report on the Implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, Jammu and Kashmir ranks eighth among all states and UTs in India in terms of plastic waste per capita generation. 

Food on table. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

According to the monthly progress report for January 2021, the monthly average of plastic waste generation is 6,200 metric tonnes.

A study conducted by the Directorate of Agriculture in 2019 found out that plastic bottles constitute 40 per cent by weight of all macroplastics found on the peripheries of the Dal Lake in Srinagar. A further 10 per cent of the materials found were classified as plastic debris of unknown origin. 

Looking forward

Referring to the growing use of plastics, French intellectual Roland Barthes had written in 1957: “The hierarchy of substances is abolished, and a single one replaces them all – the whole world can be plasticized and even life itself since, we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas.”

Down the drain. [FPK Photo/Aamir Nowshahri.]

Plastic has changed the world dramatically since its inception, and may well be classified as indispensible owing to the wide variety of its uses. The problem at hand is not how it is used but rather how it is managed at the end of its useful life.

Click to comment
To Top