This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Paribha Vashist. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

To Tackle The Plastic Menace, We Need To Shift From The ‘Take, Make & Dispose’ Mentality

More from Paribha Vashist

Let’s face reality. If you were to visit a beach in India, you would most likely encounter heaps of plastics on the seashore. From mineral water bottles and packets of chips to polythene bags and shampoo containers, you would find nearly every imaginable form and shape of plastic lying motionless on the coast, serving only to ruin the landscape.

But every once in a while, they are carried into the water bodies by the waves. This is where the long journey of plastic starts. My basic chemistry knowledge tells me that the closely bonded polymers would take centuries to degrade or essentially ‘die’. But the question then is – what happens to the plastic once it enters the ocean? It takes several paths and nearly all of them are detrimental to the ecosystem.

Plastics are often mistaken for food by animals and are thus subsequently consumed. This is how they enter animal bodies and gravely impact their health by blocking digestive tracts and damaging the endocrine system, resulting in their painful and untimely deaths.

In addition to this, when floating plastic that is degraded into tiny pieces by sunlight and microbeads that are a major constituent of shampoos, detergents, etc. enter the aquatic plants and animals, they get stored as toxic non-biodegradable chemicals that biomagnify over the trophic levels, ultimately reaching human beings and severely impacting the food chain. It is not surprising to note that the sea salt that we regularly consume tends to have microplastics in them. So think about this: “Are we having plastic for dinner?’’

In other cases, once plastic enters the ocean, it flows great distances because of the water movement and ocean currents, and at times gets trapped in gyres. One such example is the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ in the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest known levels of plastic particulates suspended in the upper water column. The photodegradation of these plastics to a molecular level enable them to enter food chains when consumed by aquatic animals. On decomposition, they let out potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and polychlorinated biphenyls.

Plastics are also seen on streets and pavements in cities, blowing carelessly with the winds and flowing into water pipes during rainy seasons, often clogging drainage systems. When plastics accumulate in landfills, they can release harmful substances into the groundwater and severely impact human health. The previously discussed aspects may have triggered you to think, “Why can’t we simply get rid of plastics when they are so harmful indeed?” or “Shouldn’t we completely ban the use of plastic?” 

Well, before we delve deep into these questions, it is important to understand the history of plastic production. According to the Science History Institute, “The first synthetic polymer was invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt, who was inspired by a New York firm’s offer of $10,000 for anyone who could provide a substitute for ivory. The growing popularity of billiards had put a strain on the supply of natural ivory, obtained through the slaughter of wild elephants. By treating cellulose, derived from cotton fibre, with camphor, Hyatt discovered a plastic that could be crafted into a variety of shapes and made to imitate natural substances like tortoiseshell, horn, linen, and ivory. “This discovery was revolutionary. For the first time, human manufacturing was not constrained by the limits of nature. Nature only supplied so much wood, metal, stone, bone, tusk, and horn. But now humans could create new materials. This development helped not only people but also the environment. Advertisements praised celluloid as the saviour of the elephant and the tortoise. Plastics could protect the natural world from the destructive forces of human need. The creation of new materials also helped free people from the social and economic constraints imposed by the scarcity of natural resources. Inexpensive celluloid made material wealth more widespread and obtainable. And the plastics revolution was only getting started.”

So, overall, plastics were made for a benevolent cause. However, presently, they are nothing less than a menace. And this menace is not caused by the entire set of plastics that is produced globally, but only from a fraction that escapes the loop of a circular economy. Most of the plastic that we consume come under the category of ‘single-use’ as they are just used once and discarded; and it is these ‘single-use plastics’ that are affecting habitats, ecosystems and marine life worldwide.

Plastic is remarkable for its characteristically durable nature and elastic properties, but the way in which we are using them and managing plastic trash is by far wrong. When we adopt recycling strategies, it is crucial that we learn from nature’s laws. On having a close look at the nutrient cycle, you would observe that the food produced by autotrophs is consumed by animals which ultimately die; their dead remains are decomposed by saprophytes and the nutrients are returned to the soil; these nutrients are then taken in by the plants which subsequently produce food to continue the nutrient cycle.

So from this example, we can infer that all the waste generated in one stage is actually being utilised as a resource in the next stage; and it is this lesson that we should incorporate in our daily-lifestyles, especially when it comes to the usage and management of high-utility objects (such as plastics).

For instance, Philips (the light manufacturing giant) is pioneering a circular economy approach, and is meanwhile saving costs. Frans Van Houten, CEO Philips, says: “We decided to embed circular-economy thinking in our strategic vision and mission, both as a competitive necessity and with the conviction that companies solving the problem of resource constraints will have an advantage. We believe that customers will increasingly consider natural resources in their buying decisions and will give preference to companies that show responsible behavior—something we are already seeing. Designing products and services for a circular economy can also bring savings to a company. The first impression people always have is that it adds costs, but that’s not true. We find that it drives breakthrough thinking and can generate superior margins. “In our lighting business, for example, rapidly changing technology and the economic crisis made business and municipal customers reluctant to make big investments, because they felt uncertain. This led us to consider lighting as a service. (….) For business customers, we now sell lighting as a service: customers only pay us for the light, and we take care of the technology risk and the investment. In many cases, we also take the equipment back when it’s the right moment to recycle the materials or upgrade them for reuse. Similarly, for municipal customers we now have streetlight installations in Singapore and, more recently, a contract in Buenos Aires to replace the majority of the 125,000 existing streetlights there with LED luminaires over the next three years. We install the equipment, maintain it, and make sure that it runs for a very long time.”

A shift from a linear economy (‘take, make and dispose’) to a resource efficient circular economy will ensure that plastic is not dumped carelessly, and is recycled into more usable products. However, such a transition would require the concerted and coordinated efforts of multiple stakeholders. To begin with, it would require a change in the mindset of the society in general; people will have to understand their civic responsibilities and reduce the generation of plastic wastes in the first place; this can only be done by creating awareness amongst the masses and by providing them incentives to shift to eco-friendly alternatives.

Then, it would require the stricter implementation and enforcement of policies by the government. For instance, a ban on microbeads in cosmetic products would greatly reduce the concentration of microplastics in water bodies. Such campaign initiatives must be carried forward by advocacy groups and non-governmental bodies.

Moreover, social and scientific research on eco-friendly alternatives to plastic by scientists can propose solutions to potentially reduce the extent of plastic production.

Furthermore, the idea of ‘redesigning’ products to make them more compatible and to get rid of redundant plastic, is another way by which we can reduce the usage of plastic. The packaging industry also needs to transform into a more plastic-free and environment-friendly industry; there has to be accountability on their part when it comes to plastic packaging.

Lastly, it is very important to have awareness and cleanliness drives to clean-up the ‘wasted’ plastics and to prevent them from entering water bodies. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these steps are just a quick-fix; the problem can only be tackled with the right policy interventions and an appropriate change in the mindset of people.

You must be to comment.

More from Paribha Vashist

Similar Posts

By Ramesh Tiwari

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Saathi

    If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

      If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        If you do not receive an email within the next 5 mins, please check your spam box or email us at

        Wondering what to write about?

        Here are some topics to get you started

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

        Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

        Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

        The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

        Read more about his campaign.

        Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

        Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

        Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

        Read more about her campaign.

        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

        With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Read more about her campaign. 

        A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

        As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

        Find out more about the campaign here.

        A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

        She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

        Share your details to download the report.

        We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

        Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below