This year’s World Environment Day has a simple yet powerful message: Beat plastic pollution.
As you know, plastic is ubiquitous and plastic is useful, but single-use plastic in particular can also be a real problem for Earth and all of its inhabitants.
We noted back in April that as much as 14 billion pounds of plastic finds its way into our oceans every year. By our calculations, that’s roughly the equivalent of 7 million full-grown great white sharks roaming the waters (in reality, there are likely less than 4,000 of these adult fish in our seas by the way), and that type of environmental damage has taken a huge bite out of the efficacy of our ecosystem.
One country that is known to have a waste problem is India. According to the Times of India, Delhi, for example, saw a 2,075 percent rise in the daily number of tons of garbage produced in the city between 2000 and 2015 (400 tons vs. 8,700 tons, respectively). In fact, when a fire broke out at a landfill in Bhalswa in northwest Delhi a couple of years ago, it was determined that the amount of garbage stored there was a full 30 meters (almost 100 feet) above what was deemed permissible.
Knowing that, it might surprise you to learn that, even though it’s about a quarter of the size in terms of population, the United States reportedly has a bigger disposable plastics problem than India.
A 2014 report from PlasticInsight.com found that the average U.S. citizen consumed 68 kilograms (almost 150 pounds) of plastic-based materials per year—including polyethylene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride resins—compared with 8 kilograms (a little over 17 pounds) in India. Also surprising, as the Economic Times reported, 60 percent of India’s plastic is recycled vs. only 9 percent in the United States.
The Taj Mahal
To make matters better, India recently announced it hopes to eliminate or at least minimize plastic waste around landmarks such as the Taj Mahal, the beautiful, 365-year-old white marble mausoleum on the banks of the Yamuna River, which, itself, is highly polluted. As Mahesh Sharma, India’s minister of state for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, declared in a June 3 news release: “With our pledge today, India is sending a message today to the world that we can beat plastic pollution. We are committed to making the peripheries of 100 historic monuments in India litter-free.”
The plan includes “segregating plastic waste generated near the monument for recycling, encouraging ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ tourism and launching mass consumer awareness campaigns about the negative impacts of single-use plastics thereby changing consumption patterns in the city.”
Sustainable tourism by the way includes pledging not to use consumer plastics in tourist sites or possibly even organizing a cleanup in these areas, according to a blog from Mechtild Rossler, the director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). There are more than 1,000 sites around the globe participating in the World Heritage program to protect tourism sites from pollution everywhere from the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan to the Matobo Hills in Zimbabwe.
A rocky outcrop in the Matobo Hills, near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Ready for Recycling
It’s no stretch to say that India has become an important player when it comes to innovation in plastic recycling. Earlier this year a Hyderabad, India-based startup company called Banyan Nation became the first Indian company to win a Circular Economy Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos in the Dell People’s Choice category.
Banyan Nation’s plastic cleaning technology is designed to turn consumer and industrial plastic waste into recycled granules, which it calls “Better Plastic.” It also says that these granules are comparable to “virgin plastic.”
As Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the chief energy officer at the University of Houston, wrote in Forbes: Banyan Nation’s “true innovation lies in its efforts to address the three key challenges in plastics recycling in countries like India—addressing the “last mile” of the waste through a digital network; developing a strategy for cleaning and sorting the plastic waste economically to ensure creation of a secondary-use pellet that was comparable to primary plastic; and lastly partnership with large statewide entities and multinational corporations towards the waste-to-product recycling for e-waste, automobile parts and consumer products packaging.”
Put Away the Plastic
To limit the amount of plastic entering landfills and bodies of water, many countries and cities have taken measures to limit plastic waste. For example, Ireland imposed a levy on plastic bags in 2002, which reportedly has led to a 90 percent drop in their use. The country has also been able to generate millions of dollars for environmental projects from the initiative. Earlier this year, Mumbai, India, instituted a strict penalty system for issuing plastic bags, disposable plastic plates, straws, etc. A third offense for distributing plastic items could bring a 25,000 rupee fine (about $370) and up to three months in jail. In a city where a reported 54,000 people live in poverty—although some say the figure is much higher than that—this is truly significant. It is worth noting that similar bans have been implemented in the past, but reportedly have not been enforced.
While India clearly has a long way to go to help clean up its environment, these steps are welcome initiatives to help create a more sustainable world. As India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, recently tweeted: “On World Environment Day, we reaffirm our commitment to a cleaner and sustainable planet. India is hosting the global celebrations this year. And we are obligated to bequeathing [sic] a greener and eco-friendly legacy to our children.”
After all, the world is a better place when we take care of our environment, so let’s do our part by making every day World Environment Day.