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Does Our Future Look Like A Plastic Junkyard? Yes, It Does

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“The future of plastics is in the trash can.”

-Lloyd Stouffer, Society of Plastics Industry Speech (1956)

The world is divided into two halves. On the one hand, there are advocates of plastic who swear by its comfy use, revolutionizing character and affordability. On the other hand, anti-plastic use voices condemn the overdependence of humanity on plastic and the disaster it is causing to the environmental balance. Plastic is ubiquitous in the modern era. Just talk about anything from a snazzy mobile phone, credit card in your wallet, or a Barbie doll for your kid, plastic dominates our lives.

Multiple uses of polymer compounds are embedded in everyday routine in millions of ways. Polymers are both man-made and natural occurring. A polymer is a chemical compound with molecules bonded together in long, repeating chains. Due to their structure, polymers have unique properties and these can be exploited for multiple uses.

The Deceptive Nature Of Plastic

On the deceptive use of plastic
“The future of plastics is in the trash can.”

The man-made or synthetic polymer is polythene, the most commonly used plastic in the world. PVC or Poly Vinyl Chloride was patented in the year 1913 at the start of

World War I to replace glass and metal for the packaging of pharmaceutical products. The plastic serves up as a cheap and flexible option in medical devices and has impacted the healthcare sector in a big way.

Contrast this with hard data on the damage which different types of solid plastic waste are causing to our fragile environment. In the year 2016, the world spewed up almost 242 million tones of plastic waste. According to the World Bank, this waste primarily originated from three regions—57 million tonnes from East Asia and the Pacific, 45 million tonnes from Europe and Central Asia, and 35 million tonnes from North America.

Surely, the plastic story has two sides to it. Increasingly, it is being felt by environmentalists that the human race adopted plastic for convenience but now we are drowning in plastic waste.  Plastic pollution causes irreversible damage to not just human health but also threatens mammals, birds, and wildlife, and marine creatures. Plastic debris is found everywhere. From the Himalayas to Antarctica, the world is littered with plastic waste.

Oceans of the world are now home to massive trashes of plastic garbage. The Great Pacific Garbage patch is home to swirling trash and spinning debris from one coast to another. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, extends from the West Coast of North America to Japan. A lot of trash inside of this vortex is non-biodegradable and plastic is the main culprit. Gullible sea creatures ingest plastic and this leads to early death among whales, sea turtles, and many more unique inhabitants of oceans. Non-biodegradable waste cannot be broken down by living organisms.

India: A Dumping Ground for Plastics

India: A Dumping Ground for Plastics
A highly ignored characteristic of plastic is that it is almost immortal. It is almost impossible to get rid of it.

A highly ignored characteristic of plastic is that it is almost immortal. It is almost impossible to get rid of it. The developed world mooted the idea of ‘recycling’ to downplay the stubborn nature of plastic. As per a news report, 1, 21,000 metric tonne of plastic waste found its way to the dumping grounds of India. This waste has been dumped by almost 25 countries.

India became the dumping ground for 55,000 metric tons of plastic waste from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Recycling companies have ‘slyly’ brought this waste to India and the government is not able to stem the onslaught. It is time for co-ordinate action on this front by the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board).

To get its way around the dumping tactics of western nations, China came up with “National Sword Policy” to stave off the nexus of recycling processors in January 2018 and has successfully halted the environmental threat at home to a great degree.

Most nations now opt to incinerate the plastic waste or dump it in landfills. In case, none of this works out, the waste just litters the landscape as ‘throwaway culture’ gains momentum across the globe. According to a study by Yale School of Environmental and Forestry and Environmental Study, communities across the United States have stopped their recycling programs. 

Philadelphia’s government is burning its recyclables including plastic at a waste-to-energy plant and this has led to the rise of concerns on air pollution. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle is a western trope and for long has been peddled as the working mantra for seeking newer markets for plastic trash in the form of recycling plant units located miles away from national coastlines of the developed world. It is time we junked the “Recycle” call and reclaim the policy idea space by refusing to be dumping ground for plastics and insisting on a sustainable future where the harmful effects of plastic use are completely obliterated.

India Grapples With Plastic Hazard

Several states in India have put a complete ban on the use of polythene carry bags but it doesn’t seem to help much as people continue to use it citing lack of ‘alternatives’.

Several states in India have put a complete ban on the use of polythene carry bags but it doesn’t seem to help much as people continue to use it citing lack of ‘alternatives’. For instance, the northern state of Punjab in the year 2016 notified a ban on the use of plastic carry bags under the Punjab Plastic Carry Bags (Manufacture, Usage, and Disposal) Control Act, 2005. In spite of legislation in place, plastic waste management in the state is at an ebb as due to the absence of awareness campaigns and proactive state response, plastic use proliferates.

At the international stage, India is yet to ratify a vital Amendment brought within the scope of the Basel Convention. The 1995 Ban Amendment, a global waste dumping prohibition, has become international law after Croatia ratified it on September 6, 2019.

Croatia became the 97th country to ratify the ban, which was adopted by the parties to the Basel Convention in 1995, to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects of hazardous wastes, according to Basel Action Network (BAN). BAN is a United States-based charity organization to play a leading role in creating the Basel Ban Amendment. This Amendment has been hailed as a landmark agreement for global environmental justice.

It may be recalled that the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted by the United Nations in the year 1989 and it came into force in the year 1992.

The Convention is by far the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous wastes. Basel Convention aspires to regulate the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and other wastes and expects from member nations to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The Convention covers toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, eco-toxic, and infectious wastes.

At the rate at which we are harbouring plastic, it is not long before we start living in a plastic junkyard. In a way, we already are living with tonnes of plastic waste in our backyard. India must urgently start looking seriously for healthier alternatives to plastic and the idea is to innovate and improvise.

Today, nations are gazing at a future without plastics. Mycotecture and stone wool is being considered as safer alternatives to plastic. India needs to walk the path of environmental protection and should also emphatically refuse to be dumping ground of hazardous plastic waste. It has been observed by some experts that fighting off plastic waste is more complex than fighting Covid-19 and governments need to synergize their efforts with NGOs, researchers, and industry experts.

A plastic-filled future is only going to put a plastic smile on our face and definitely, the world is better off with the radiant natural smile.

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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.

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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.

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