Menace of Plastic consumption


    In Context

    • A new Study Warns of doubling of Plastic Consumption in G20 countries by 2050 without new policies.

    Plastic Consumption across Globe

    • According to a report by the Back to Blue initiative, Plastic consumption in G20 countries may nearly double by 2050 unless new global policies are put in place to reduce its use.
    • Countries with the highest economic and population growth are likely to see the largest increase in plastic consumption in the coming decades.
    • Plastic consumption is expected to nearly double by 2050, reaching 451 million tonnes from 261 million tonnes in 2019.
    • Single-use plastic ban is the most effective policy, but even with the ban, plastic consumption across G20 countries will be 1.48 times higher in 2050 compared to 2019.
    • Extended producer responsibility schemes will have a minimal effect on the consumption of single-use plastic products, but still a vital part of the solution.
    • Currently, the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, prohibits manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of carry bags and plastic sheets less than 50 microns in thickness in the country.

    Issues / Challenges with Plastic

    • Environmental: It is harmful to the environment as it is non-biodegradable and takes years to disintegrate.
      • Marine wildlife such as seabirds, whales, fishes and turtles eat plastic waste and most die of starvation as their stomachs are filled with plastic debris.
    • Food and health: Invisible plastic has been identified in tap water, beer, salt and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans, including the Arctic.
      • The transfer of contaminants between marine species and humans through the consumption of seafood has been identified as a health hazard.
        • Fish consume thousands of tons of plastic in a year, ultimately transferring it up the food chain to marine mammals.
    • Climate change: Plastic, which is a petroleum product, also contributes to global warming. If plastic waste is incinerated, it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thereby increasing carbon emissions.
    • Tourism: Plastic waste damages the aesthetic value of tourist destinations, leading to decreased tourism-related incomes and major economic costs related to the cleaning and maintenance of the sites.
    • Financial costs of marine plastic pollution: According to conservative forecasts made in March 2020, the direct harm to the blue economy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be $2.1 billion per year.

    Challenges in controlling plastic pollution:

    • Weak enforcement of regulations: While India has enacted laws to control plastic pollution, enforcement remains weak due to limited resources and inadequate monitoring and reporting mechanisms.
    • Lack of public awareness: There is a need for more widespread public education campaigns to promote plastic alternatives and proper waste disposal practices.
    • Limited infrastructure: There is a lack of proper waste collection and segregation systems, and many landfill sites are poorly managed and overflowing.
    • Recycling challenges: While India has a vibrant informal recycling sector, there are challenges with the quality and safety of recycled plastics, as well as a lack of standardized recycling processes and technologies.
    • Single-use plastic production: India still produces a significant amount of single-use plastic items, such as straws, cutlery, and bags, which are difficult to recycle and often end up in landfills or waterways. 

    Steps taken by India to control plastic pollution

    • Ban on single-use plastics: India has banned the production, use, and sale of single-use plastics such as bags, cups, plates, cutlery, and straws in many states.
    • Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): The Indian government has implemented EPR, making plastic manufacturers responsible for managing and disposing of the waste generated by their products.
    • Plastic Waste Management Rules: India introduced the Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2016, which provide a framework for managing plastic waste through various measures, including recycling and waste-to-energy initiatives.
    • Swachh Bharat Abhiyan: The Indian government launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, a national cleanliness campaign, which includes the collection and disposal of plastic waste.
    • Plastic Parks: India has set up Plastic Parks, which are specialized industrial zones for recycling and processing plastic waste.
    • Beach clean-up drives: The Indian government and various non-governmental organizations have organized beach clean-up drives to collect and dispose of plastic waste from beaches.
    • Awareness campaigns: India has launched awareness campaigns to educate people about the harmful effects of plastic pollution and encourage them to use sustainable alternatives.

    Way ahead:

    • The report on plastic pollution in G20 countries is a wake-up call for policymakers, industries, and individuals to take concrete action towards reducing plastic consumption and pollution.
    • The study reveals that without significant changes in policies, plastic consumption across G20 countries could double by 2050, leading to severe environmental and health consequences.
    • It is encouraging to see some G20 countries taking steps towards reducing single-use plastics, but there is a need for bolder and more ambitious policies to bring about a significant reduction in plastic pollution.
    • Bold and sweeping reforms are necessary to bend the plastic consumption curve, and all stakeholders including petrochemical companies and consumers must control the crisis.


    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] Examine the implications of the rise in Plastic pollution and suggest the possible reforms needed to bend the plastic consumption curve.