This year, India celebrated the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Cleanliness and environment conservation are some important values under Gandhian principles. On this occasion, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a ban on single-use plastics. He proclaimed that the environment can be conserved through “Jan Bhagidaari” (people’s participation), for example, the Swachh Bharat Mission.
This is a significant move and a positive step by the government to tackle the problem of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include straws, cups, plates, plastic bags, small bottles, small sachets that are thrown away after being used once, and more. The campaign is headed by the environment and housing ministries. The government has also set a target to beat the plastic pollution comprehensively by 2022.
Single-use plastic has been the leading cause of recent floods that occurred in various parts of urban areas across India. The plastics choke the drainage system, thus affecting the flow of water. Single-use plastic that finds its way into our water bodies has been killing marine organisms and entering the human food chain through our consumption of fish, and other marine creatures. Due to the widespread littering of plastics on roads, various animals end up consuming them. These kinds of plastic may seem small but their impact on the environment is huge.
Mostly, plastic bags are made of polyethylene (a substance that is derived from refining crude oil and processing natural gas). We know all know that oil and natural gas are non-renewable fuel-based resources. Therefore, their extraction and production emit greenhouse gases which are the main cause behind increasing global warming and thus, exacerbating climate change. According to estimates, if plastic products are not banned, it will use 20% of oil for its production by 2050. Banning plastic, therefore, can help in reducing the consumption of fossil fuels which, in turn, would reduce/stabilise the effects of global warming.
Another issue with plastic is that it is made of a very resistant synthetic polymer that could last for a thousand years and not degrade completely in the natural environment. Also, these plastic products break into microscopic pieces that get deposited in soils and increases soil and water pollution.
A plastic ban would encourage tribal communities from Odisha and other states that engage in picking and using Kendu leaves or sal leaves which in turn can be used as an alternative to plastic plates and utensils. This would increase their source of income and also help improve their livelihood. The kendu leaf plates are biodegradable and completely organic, and so, good for our health and the environment. It would be beneficial for the environment if these plates would be used in commercial roadside food joints (that usually use single-use plastics) and also in wedding ceremonies, and so forth.
Apart from reducing our plastic use, we must think of alternatives. These could be jute or cotton bags that can last longer and are very light-weight. To achieve a plastic-free environment, mass awareness campaigns are the need of the hour. We must never forget the fact that natural resources –land, water, and soil–are very important for human existence and we should protect it.