India has a 26,000-tonne plastic waste problem

India occupies 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste every day, but 40% of it remains uncollected causing choking of drainage and river systems, littering of the marine ecosystem, soil and water pollution, ingestion by stray animals, and open-air burning leading to adverse impact on human health and environment.

These facts are said in the Centre’s latest missive to states and UTs on phasing out single-use plastic which is neither biodegradable nor recyclable.

It is considered that nearly one-sixth of the total plastic waste is generated by 60 major cities, with Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Bengaluru together generating more than 50% of the total ‘contribution’ from these cities.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had organized a study in these 60 major cities of India. It reported that these cities every day generate in total 4,059 tonnes of plastic waste. Extrapolating this plastic waste generation data from the cities in 2010-12, the board had last year estimated the country-wide data on plastic waste and submitted it to the ministry. It found that that 10,376 tonnes (40%) out of 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste per day remain uncollected.

Noting the menace of uncollected plastic waste, India had last year voluntarily committed to eliminating, at least, single-use plastic by 2022.

The union environment secretary, C K Mishra, on Monday shared standard guidelines with states and UTs, demanding them for taking up and stepping up prohibitive actions so that the country can meet its 2022 goal on phasing out single-use plastic. The guidelines suggest a different set of actions, comprising legal ones, which the states may take to minimize production and use of single-use plastic.

questioned about the move on single-use plastic, Gopal Krishna of the Toxic Watch Alliance (TWA), said, “It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but more steps require to be taken. The campaign should not be limited to single-use plastic”.

As a first major step, he stated, the government should immediately ban “import of plastic waste”. “China and Malaysia did it. Why can’t India do it”? asked Krishna, who has been following the issue of hazardous and municipal solid waste (MSW), including plastic waste, for long.

He said, “Government had banned the import of plastic waste, especially PET bottles in 2015. But the amendment has done at the behest of foreign and domestic plastic waste traders, permitting import in Special Economic Zones (SEZs) since 2016”.

The CPCB study found that average plastic waste generation is around 6.92% of the total MSW in the country. It varies from 3.1% (Chandigarh) to 12.4% (Surat). Plastic waste is over 10% of total MSW in Delhi, over 9% in Chennai and over 6% in Mumbai.

The study stated that around 94% of total plastic waste comprises of “thermoplastic” content which is recyclable such as PET and PVC. Remaining 6% belongs to the family of “thermoset” and other categories of plastics (such as sheet molding compound, fiber reinforced plastic, and thermocol) which is non-recyclable.

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