Why India is taking the lead for a clean planet | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Why India is taking the lead for a clean planet

Our obsession with plastic, coupled with over consumption, the use-and-throw culture, and littering creates a hazardous environment for animals, marine life and human beings, writes Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan.

analysis Updated: Jun 05, 2018 15:45 IST
Children walk along a garbage-filled bay in Manila. According to the UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, land-based sources account for up to 80% of the world’s marine pollution, 60- 90% of the waste being plastic debris.
Children walk along a garbage-filled bay in Manila. According to the UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, land-based sources account for up to 80% of the world’s marine pollution, 60- 90% of the waste being plastic debris.(AFP Photo)

Before we had plastics, we used bags made of jute and paper and combs of wood . Frugality, recycling and reusing was part of our tradition. The belief that there is more than one life for everything was entrenched in the psyche of Indians.

Somewhere along the path to development, we moved away from our natural way of living. Plastics are now littering our shorelines, clogging some beaches totally. Plastic waste is choking drains in cities, causing them to overflow, making them a breeding ground for diseases. Our oceans and ecosystems are turning into dumping grounds.

This is not just India’s problem, but a global one. We are all connected through the seas. Plastic packaging has been found floating with icebergs and in the deepest depths of the ocean. Where the ocean currents meet, there are huge floating islands of waste: plastic bags, cutlery, packaging, bottles, drinking straws and more. Some of these items are used momentarily and discarded adding to our waste woes. This has huge adverse effect on sea life.

Used wisely, plastic is a miracle material. Look at any hospital and see the exquisitely created sterile packaging and basic items that save countless lives. However, plastic materials that are used for manufacturing myriad products not degradable. Our obsession with plastic, coupled with over consumption, the use-and-throw culture, and littering creates a hazardous environment for animals, marine life and human beings.

Plastic debris in the sea kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fish annually. According to the UN Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution, land-based sources account for up to 80% of the world’s marine pollution, 60- 90% of the waste being plastic debris. Every year, an estimated eight million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans, equivalent to a full garbage truck every minute.

It’s time to recognise and accept the cause of this: it’s not plastic that is the problem, but what we do with it.

Plastics and polymers in solar panels and wind turbines are at the heart of India’s economic and energy revolution. However, single-use plastic has created several problems for the environment as it is not bio-degradable. According to United Nations estimates, every year the world uses 500 million plastic bags, half of which are used just once.

India is already a global leader in recycling. We’re also a leader in innovation. That’s why we’re committed to leading the world in finding solutions to this problem. As a global host of the upcoming World Environment Day on June 5, India will be moving into high gear against single-use plastic pollution.

I urge upon citizens to pledge to do one “Green Good Deed” a day at least – which effectively means taking green good actions that reflect our green good behaviour. This indeed is our green social responsibility towards the earth and also the future generation for whom we must leave a better planet.

From the boardroom to the classroom; from the cricket field to the railway station; from the office to the beach; I call upon people to come out of their homes and become “Green Good Deed” warriors in our battle against plastic.

Community action comes first, and it delivers tangible results. We should all be inspired by the beach-cleaning community movement being taken up in Mumbai, which is a huge success story. I would like to remind all of you on this occasion that as a result of the team’s hard work, turtles have returned to the beaches near Mumbai. This movement has also resonated around the world, inspiring thousands to act and push for change. The ministry of environment, forest and climate change has also taken up beach and river cleaning activities with the help of state governments, NGOs and several community-based organisations in different parts of the country this year.

Even if not being involved directly in a clean-up, anyone can exercise their power and influence as a consumer – by refusing unnecessary single-use plastics such as straws, carry bags, cups, bottles, plastic utensils, etc.

Second, we need the private sector to do what it does best: innovate. Time and again we have shown the world the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of our people. On World Environment Day, it is now time for us to pledge to innovate our way out of a throwaway future. Many Indian business leaders are already doing so: there are plastic-free hotels and waste-to-energy projects that keep rubbish out of landfills. An increased acceptance of the idea that extended producer responsibility is also good business is now visible.

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Whatever we use, we must use many times over. Zero waste must be India’s mission.

Harsh Vardhan Union minister for environment, forest & climate change

The views expressed are personal