- GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Hidden Pandemic of Single Use Plastic
Context: Plastics have been deployed in great quantities as a shield against COVID. But little attention has been paid to where the increased plastic waste will end up
COVID-19 and Single Use Plastic
- Ambitious Goal before COVID-19 Pandemic: In 2019, Union Government committed to completely phase out single-use plastics by 2022. The commitment called for better arrangements to collect, store, and recycle single-use plastic. The pandemic halted and, in some cases, reversed much of this progress.
- Plastic became ubiquitous in wake of COVID-19: Masks, sanitiser bottles, personal protective equipment, food packaging, water bottles- all used plastic.
- Concern over Microplastics: In time, this plastic will disintegrate into tiny particles of less than five millimetres — known as microplastics — and move through water bodies and farm soil to enter the food we eat and the air we breathe.
- Very Low Recycling: only 9 per cent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, while 79 per cent of all plastic produced can be found in the world’s landfills and in our air, water, soil, and other natural systems.
- Indispensability: Plastic is still important. Its central role in durable goods, medicine and food safety means that it is not practical to get rid of entirely. Instead, we must be more thoughtful about where, when and how we use it.
There are several steps we can take right now, even during the struggle against COVID-19, keeping in mind that above all we should avoid single-use plastics as much as possible.
- Increased Collection: We should ensure that waste collection operates at the same pace as waste generation.
- Segregation at early stage: we must be able to segregate waste and used plastic early in the waste-to-value cycle so that the plastic remains suitable for treatment and recycling. Some source segregation efforts became more normalised during the pandemic and this trend should continue. It will make recycling much easier and more economically viable.
- Encourage Environment Friendly alternatives: Government should promote alternatives to single-use plastics where they exist and develop alternatives where they do not exist. Business models that avoid plastic waste through alternative product delivery systems, promote circularity, and use plastic waste should be encouraged.
- Coordination amongst stakeholders: Considering that plastic pollution is a truly society-wide problem, it is important for government, businesses, and civil society to coordinate to find solutions.
- Policy Framework: Union government should come up with National Action Plan for Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution in Rivers for effective decision-making processes and actions at the national, regional and local level.
Connecting the dots: