Today is World Earth Day and the theme for this year is ‘End plastic pollution’. In the past, several initiatives have come up initiating the complete ban of plastic across the world.
In 2007, San Francisco became the first municipality to completely ban shopping bags made out of plastic. Soon several cities followed suit and adopted similar measures. The European Union, India, China and many other countries have normalised plastic bag bans.
But the question is, how effective are these measures after all? Why hasn’t any measures worked or proven successful?
Plastic isn’t a bio degradable product and ends up either in the many water bodies or landfills. It takes millions of years to decompose as well. In the recent past, several plastic activists and environmental groups have taken measures to encourage the plastic ban.
In 2016, in an extreme case in India, environmentalist Jawahar Kumaran committed suicide and left a video protesting against toxic plastic.
19 year old Jawahar who hailed from Tamil Nadu was a young community activist who had previously gone on a hunger strike, staged protests and even tried to climb the Collector’s office building threatening to jump unless the plastic ban was enforced. Fed up with his failed attempts at convincing the authorities, he decided to take away his life. In his self recorded video he said, “I am sacrificing my life in the hope that it will trigger serious concern about plastic use in India. Since all of my peaceful means of protest failed, I’m forced to choose suicide. To save the lives of millions of people affected by toxic plastic, I don’t think it’s wrong to kill myself.”
The officials at the police station in his native district remember him to be a passionate boy and a known face who was always walking in and out of the Collector’s office fighting about an issue or the other. However they say, “His heart was in the right place, but what he didn’t understand is that making the town a zero-plastic zone cannot happen overnight.”
Jawahar lost a battle fighting for a mammoth issue that can’t be solved easily. However, there has been some action. The Indian Parliament in 2011 banned the use and manufacture of plastic bags with a thickness of under 40 microns. In March 2016, the Karnataka government passed a circular saying that no one is allowed to use plastic products. These included bags, banners, plates, cups, spoons, table cloths, cling films etc.
Although some change was brought about it was tough to enforce it completely. A proper check on the work of civil servants and proofs should be tracked. A long term system should be developed in every area. As long as bureaucrats and officials don’t implement the practices themselves, people will continue to do as they please.
An issue with regard to fines has also come to light. Hardly anyone is actually fined which makes people very complacent. Also thin plastic bags are stocked and sold thus contributing to clogging of drains and difficulty in waste management.
Polythene continues to be manufactured. It is but natural that when this happens, people will not be motivated to carry their own shopping bags.
Shopkeepers and vegetable vendors continue to be blamed daily for packing the items in plastic, however it is also the responsibility of customers to take the initiative and stop the usage of plastic bags in this regard. At present a penalty is charged only to traders, vendors and shopkeepers.
The system of picking up the plastic from landfills and using it for recycling is still an informal system. The waste pickers are those who rummage the piles of waste for hours together under unhygienic and unsafe conditions. This recycling sector needs to be organised and government regulations have come into place.
In this mission to eradicate plastic, one must realise how bad the implications can be. The future generation will probably be threatened with something more dangerous than a missile or atom bomb if serious rules and regulations aren’t brought into place. We may recognise this World Earth Day as a time to preach but who shall practice them? It all starts from WE- the citizens!
Bringing you independent, solution-oriented and well-researched stories takes us hundreds of hours each month, and years of skill-training that went behind. If our stories have inspired you or helped you in some way, please consider becoming our Supporter.