Down To Earth(January1-15 2023)
Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC
Fake Fabric and Discord from the Beginning
Topics covered from the syllabus:
GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Circular Economy: It refers to a system where there is maximum recycling and reuse of materials to ensure minimum amount of wastage.
Context: As a part of textile industry, plastic fibers like polyester have emerged as one of the major environmental polluters. There is a need to regulate its use in a sustainable manner to prevent it from polluting the environment.
- Plastic Fibers: Plastic fibers are made from plastic which is spun into fiber or filament and is further processed to make products like textiles, ropes, cables etc. There are many types of plastic fibers, including polyester, rayon, nylon, acrylic, spandex and so on. Polyester is a commonly used name for polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
- Use of Plastic Fibers: Plastic fibers are used in textile industry to make different kinds of clothing like body-hugging workout clothes, fleece jackets, stretchy lowers etc. They can also be mixed with natural fibers like cotton and wool. As per UN Environment Programme (UNEP), plastic fibers constitute almost 60% of the total clothes made globally.
- Benefits of Plastic Fibers: Plastic fibers are cheaper than natural fibers. They are also durable because of their tough nature. Despite that, plastic fibers can be moulded as per requirement and hold their shape well. They are also wrinkle free, are lighter and are resistant to stains. The colours of plastic fibers do not fade easily and they do not shrink much in the long run. All these characteristics make plastic fibers suitable for textile industry.
- Textile Industry: Global textile industry is mainly driven by synthetic fibers. In fact, synthetic fibers account for 69% of all fibers produced in the world. As per estimates, textiles are the second largest product group made from petrochemical plastics after packaging products. The former accounts for 15% of all petrochemical products.
- Textile Industry in India: In contrast to the global textile industry, natural fibers are dominant in Indian textile industry, contributing 70% of the national production. However, Ministry of Textiles in India has set a target of increasing the textile exports from $40 billion (2020-21) to $100 billion in six years.
- Legal Framework: Unlike hazardous waste or e-waste, textile waste in India is currently not handled by any specific legislation. They are regulated in a general manner under the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2016. There is a need to classify polyester under plastic waste so that it can be brought under Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.
- Consumption of Natural Resources: In addition to the above-mentioned characteristics, plastic fibers also consume lesser resources than the natural fibers. For instance, cotton crop occupies 3% of global cropland. However, it consumes 24% of insecticides and 11% of pesticides used globally. At the same time, natural fibers require a lot of chemicals for dyeing and processing.
Issues with Plastic Fibers
- Environmental Impact: Plastic fibers are produced from petrochemicals. Therefore, they have a significant carbon footprint and lead to significant carbon emissions during their production process. In 2015, the production of polyester led to the release of 706 billion Kg of greenhouse gases. Plastic fibers account for almost 10% of the global carbon dioxide emissions, as per estimates.
- Non-biodegradable: Plastic fibers are non-biodegradable products as they are oil-based polymers. Therefore, even when they are disposed of in landfills, they do not decompose like natural fibers. Similarly, when improperly disposed of in water bodies, plastic fibers tend to accumulate in oceans and damage the ocean ecosystem.
- Plastic Waste: Plastic fibers are also a source of plastic waste. According to World Bank, almost 20% of the total plastic produced in the world is in the form of plastic fibers. Their improper disposal leads to the generation of plastic waste. Therefore, there is a need for a framework or guidelines for proper disposal of plastic fibers.
- Micro-plastics: Experts say that plastic fibers release very small pieces of plastic during every wash. These micro-plastics are ingested by humans and are harmful to human health. Also, they accumulate in the oceans after they get discarded and are dangerous for the health of marine animals.
- Incineration: Plastic waste is also not considered suitable for incineration in waste to energy products as it leads to the generation of toxic fumes which may prove to be harmful to living beings.
- Misleading Campaigns: Media reports have suggested that apparel brands are using terms like ‘conscious’ and ‘conscious choice’ to mislead consumers into thinking that their products are recycled. For instance, Netherlands government recently directed apparel brands H&M and Decathlon to remove sustainability labels from their products and websites.
- Recycling: A major issue with the plastic fibers is that they are not adequately recycled across the world. Fast-moving fashion trends lead to the disposal of clothes even when they have been scarcely worn, thereby, generating plastic waste. As per media reports, people buy 60% more clothes nowadays than they bought 15 years ago. Also, they dispose of new clothes in half the time as compared to earlier.
- Dumping: It refers to the practice of sending used clothes from the developed countries to the developing countries. Media reports have raised the issue of dumping by big brands in the poorer countries. Apart from increasing waste products in developing countries, dumping is also harmful to the domestic textile industry.
- Blending: Most of the clothes produced globally are made from blended fabrics. It is difficult to recycle blended fabric as compared to pure fabrics. For instance, a pure polyester shirt can be recycled multiple times. However, blended fabrics can only be downcycled to produce carpets, before finally sending them to landfills.
Global Plastic Treaty
- Global Plastic Treaty: The need for a treaty for ending plastic pollution was first agreed upon in the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), held in Nairobi, Kenya in March 2022. The negotiators met in Punta Del Este, Uruguay for five days in November, 2022 to hammer out an intergovernmental treaty for the same.
- Major Blocs: Depending upon their position, the countries could be divided into different groups:
- High Ambition Coalition: It included countries like Norway and Rwanda. These countries wanted a legally binding treaty with confirmed commitments from all the countries.
- Unambitious Group: It included countries like US, Saudi Arabia and China. These countries called for voluntary commitments without any legal boundations. For instance, China’s stance was for voluntary commitments on the grounds of difficulties in enforcing and implementing the legally binding commitments.
- Neutral Countries: These countries were mostly silent during the negotiations. It appears that they are still at the policy-formulation stage. It included countries like India.
- Demands of Ambitious Group: As mentioned above, the ambitious group was in favor of a strong and binding treaty. Such treaty should revolve around three major tenets, including sustainable production and consumption of plastic, promotion of a circular economy (see inset), and recycling and proper management of plastic waste.
- Issues during the Negotiations: as expected during any significant international negotiation, the countries took the stance in accordance with their self-interest, which led to the formation of blocs. Major issues which propped up during the negotiations were:
- Inclusion of Industry: One of the major issues pointed out by civil society was the inclusion of industry in the closed-door meetings of regional groups. This would mean that the negotiations would be controlled by the industry who have deep pockets and can spend money on lobbying the governments.
- Exclusion of Civil Society: On the other hand, the vulnerable communities were not represented in the discussions as the civil society was not allowed in the secret meetings. For instance, the meeting of the Asia-Pacific group did not allow civil society but had representatives of industry during the discussions.
- Also, civil society was not allowed adequate time to speak at other meetings and they complained that their concerns were not properly heard.
- Division among the Countries: as per the media reports, the countries were divided on various issues. For instance, modalities of the decision making process saw divergent views from different groups. Some countries called for majority vote, while the others (including India) wanted decisions through consensus.
- Extended producer responsibility: It has been found that the apparel brands are making claims of sustainability on the basis of the fact that polyester is a recyclable material. However, it can only be recycled when it reaches proper recycling centres. If dumped in a landfill, polyester is also an environmental pollutant.
- Take-Back Scheme: There is a need to incorporate take-back schemes into the sales strategy of apparel brands to make the plastic fiber industry sustainable, on the lines of electronics industry. It would mean promoting exchange discounts to encourage consumers to return the polyester products.
- Recycling in India: In fact, India is one of the outliers. Traditionally, Indians are known for taking used apparel products for different uses. Similarly, many traditional utensil makers exchange utensils for clothes, which then enter the second hand clothes market. Also, used clothes are further processed to make home furnishing items like carpets, doormats, blankets etc.
- Importance of Recycling: The informal second-hand market in India is a blessing in disguise for the ecological footprint of the textile industry. In the absence of such market, waste products would be directly incinerated, leading to emissions of toxic fumes and polluting the environment.
- Focus on Production: The problem with the plastic fiber industry is that it focuses on consumption patterns and waste management, rather than on production. This means that the fast fashion brands put the onus on consumer demand. The need of the hour is to focus on sustainable production and increasing recycling.
- Transparency: it is important that the persons engaged in recycling plastic fibers have an idea about the chemicals used in dyeing and processing of the apparel. This will make it easier for them to classify the waste products for further use. For instance, if toxic chemicals have been used at any stage in manufacturing of the textiles, such items should be removed from any further human usage.
- Circular Economy: There is a need to promote circular economy (see inset) in the country to decrease the quantity of discarded waste. Similarly, the government must bring in guidelines for the producers to use sustainable raw materials and to try to incorporate the cost of collection of the product into the final price. Resource audits must be made mandatory for textile industry.
- It is high time that plastic fibers are recognized as a part of environmental pollutants and strategies are devised to deal with them. Also, Global Plastic Treaty is now in the policy formulation stage. Leaders of the world need to understand that they cannot be divided on the issue of sustainable usage and consumption of resources, otherwise, it would be harmful for the survival of future generations.
- What is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)? Do you think there is a need to extend EPR regulations to the textile industry?
- What are the major flashpoints which have emerged in Uruguay during the negotiations for Global Plastic Treaty?
- Define the concept of carrying capacity of an ecosystem as relevant to an environment. Explain how understanding this concept is vital while planning for sustainable development of a region. (GS3 - 2019)
- What are the impediments in disposing the huge quantities of discarded solid wastes which are continuously being generated? How do we remove safely the toxic wastes that have been accumulating in our habitable environment? (GS3 - 2018)
Killed in Cold Blood
TOPICS COVERED FROM THE SYLLABUS
GS-3: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Context: Agricultural intensification and expansion of residential areas have led to a loss of habitat for amphibians and reptiles.
Importance of Reptiles and Amphibians
- Herpetofauna: It refers to cold-blooded animals like reptiles and amphibians. Reptiles, like snakes, live primarily on land while amphibians, like frogs and toads, live in both water and land. Cold-blooded animals refer to those animals which cannot regulate their body temperature like humans do. They are also called poikilothermic animals.
- Pest Control: Reptiles and amphibians feed on the pests and insects, which constitute their natural diet. However, these pests are harmful for the crops as they consume them for food and cause diseases in the crops. Therefore, amphibians and reptiles are natural friends of farmers and protect the crops from pests. It has been estimated that the pest control services provided by herpetofauna is worth US $400 billion worldwide.
- Farm Productivity: Cold-blooded animals are also helpful in improving the soil productivity. Many such animals like snakes make their burrows inside the soil which serve as their habitat. Such burrows lead to the aeration of soil making it further suitable for cultivation and improving its productivity.
- Agents of Pollination: Reptiles and amphibians also act as pollination agents as they transport pollen grains from one plant to another plant. This is actually a symbiotic association as the plant provides food for the animals and the animals help in cross-pollination of the crop. Similarly, these animals help in crop expansion as they are helpful in seed dispersal and furthering ecological succession.
- Biodiversity: Reptiles and amphibians constitute an important part of the food chain and food web in the farmland ecosystem. Without them, the pests would increase and destroy the crops. At the same time, the top predators like Eagle and Hawk would die due to lack of food. They are also important for enhancing the biodiversity of the biosphere.
Challenges facing Herpetofauna
- Land Conversion: Anthropological needs have led to an expansion in the residential areas and encroachment of forests. This has led to a loss of habitat for amphibians and reptiles, and has brought them into direct conflict with humans. Also, amphibians and reptiles are especially vulnerable to such expansion as they have a very small lifetime dispersal range (12 kms for frogs and toads).
- Increased Use of Fertilisers and Pesticides: Modern technologies (like high yielding varieties of seeds) require an enhanced usage of pesticides and insecticides. This leads to the destruction of organisms engaged in agricultural ecosystems like insects. Therefore, amphibians and reptiles face a shortage of feed in artificial agricultural ecosystems.
- Changes in Cropping Systems: Economies of scale has led to the farmers moving towards big plantations of a single crop. Such monoculture is harmful for the diversity of organisms which have different preferences for feed and nutrition. Again, this leads to inadequate nutrition for cold-blooded animals which are dependent on the organisms in a farm.
- Reduced Proportion of Natural Vegetation: An increased usage of modern technologies and chemicals is not only harmful for the health of humans, but also affects the growth and spread of cold-blooded animals. In the absence of natural vegetation as their habitat, amphibians and reptiles find it difficult to survive and sustain.
- Sensitivity to Microclimate: Cold-blooded animals like amphibians and reptiles are very sensitive to the microclimate of any region. Any changes to the temperature, pH, moisture, soil humidity or other conditions lead to drastic effects on their population. Therefore, an increase in the use of pesticides is harmful to herpetofauna.
- Difference between Amphibians and Reptiles: Although both amphibians and reptiles have been affected due to contamination of water by pesticides, it is the amphibians who have suffered more. This is because the skin of amphibians is porous and pesticides-laden water enters their body directly during water uptake and respiration. In contrast, reptiles only inhale and ingest the pesticides.
- Diversity in Habitats: To protect the herpetofauna, there is a need to incorporate changes in policy formulation and to ensure that adequate habitats are available for the cold blooded animals to flourish. Otherwise, it would be harmful for the biodiversity and irreversible changes are expected to creep up in the food webs and ecological systems.
- Natural Vegetation: At the same time, it is important to understand that the more natural the ecosystem is, the more benefits it provides to both the humans and the herpetofauna. The government has done well to promote organic farming under different government schemes like Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana.
- Reduction in Monoculture: As mentioned above, the desire for an increase in remuneration has led the farmers to prefer monoculture in big plantations. Though this is profitable in the short-term, it is not conducive to the health of consumers due to the usage of chemicals like insecticides and pesticides. Also, such practices are harmful for the growth of herpetofauna.
- Increasing Alternate Prey: there is a need to ensure adequate design changes so that there is an increase in the number of alternate prey for reptiles and amphibians. This can be done by ensuring encouragement to natural and semi natural vegetation, as well as, making buffer strips such as ditches. Also, the availability of adequate plant nutrition for herpetofauna should be ensured.
- Modern agricultural practices have led to an increase in food security for rising population. However, they have not been beneficial for natural ecosystems. There has been a wide imbalance leading to rapid rise of some species while others are fighting for survival. There is a need to ensure that the delicate balance of the ecosystem is not disturbed due to anthropological changes.
- What are the ecological services provided by herpetofauna? Discuss the challenges being faced by amphibians and reptiles due to the advent of modern agricultural practices.
- How far is the Integrated Farming System (IFS) helpful in sustaining agricultural production? (GS3 - 2019)
- How does biodiversity vary in India? How is the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 helpful in conservation of flora and fauna? (GS3 - 2018)