Coming across news of authorities launching a drive against the rampant use of polythene in the markets of Kashmir valley used to be very common. However, of late these drives are not being held on a large scale. As a result, polythene bags can be found at almost every shop in Kashmir. At times, locals too used to be fined for carrying polythene bags but now they can be seen roaming around freely while carrying the same. There seems to be no strict plan in place against its use. During the drive against the use of polythene in the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, the joint teams of the State Pollution Control Board, Srinagar District Administration, and Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) would crackdown on the shopkeepers and roadside vendors almost on a daily basis. Though these drives cannot be the only solution to stop the use of polythene, it certainly impacts the thinking of a sizeable number of people that are not aware of the damages it causes to the environment.
The ill effects of polythene are well known as not just the government, the environmentalists too have been ringing alarm bells in this regard for quite some time now. Not only have researchers revealed that it takes 1,000 years in a landfill for polythene to decompose, one million polyethylene bags are used throughout the world every minute. Polyethylene is also a suspected human carcinogen or cancer-causing agent. When these bags come in direct contact with food, as in packaging, chemicals within the bag can leach out into the food and contaminate it. Polythene/ plastic pollution can cause environmental damages in both land and waterways. It is estimated that 1.1 to 8.8 million tonnes of plastic waste enter the ocean from coastal communities each year. Polythene bags have even caused floods in several parts of the world due to the blocking of pipes caused by irresponsible dumping. Polythene also limits the air to pass through the soil, therefore, disturbing the ecology.
Data reveals that an estimated 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced worldwide between 1950 and 2018. Ironically, only nine percent of plastic has been recycled and just another 12 percent has been incinerated. As per a report published in the National Geographic in 2018, half of the world’s plastics are made in Asia. The lion’s share of that 29 percent is made in China, which is home to 18 percent of the world’s population. Plastic recycling rates are highest in Europe at 30 percent followed by China at 25 percent. Interestingly, the United States recycles just nine percent of its plastic trash. And about eight percent of the world’s oil production is used to make plastic and power the manufacturing of it. That figure is projected to rise to 20 percent by 2050. Similarly, a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report (2018-19) puts the total annual plastic waste generation in India at 3.3 million metric tonnes per year. Though it says India’s plastic waste problem is not as huge as that of the rich world, it is definitely growing. Another study conducted by the Un-Plastic Collective (UPC) revealed that 40 percent of plastic waste remains uncollected. Therefore, given a whole lot of harmful effects of polythene use, it is imperative that the menace is tackled seriously.
However, its use cannot be curbed through the launching of cosmetic drives. Even though the joint governmental teams in the past have managed to seize tonnes of polythene, its use keeps on resurfacing. And merely banning polythene too is not going to solve the problem. Even if the government launches a year-long drive against the use of polythene by the shopkeepers and public, the product will still be used. Though the drives too play a role, the problem has therefore to be nipped in the bud. First of all the government has to ensure that it provides alternatives to the people engaged in this business. Mere banning will not help as both the shopkeepers and shoppers need cheaper alternatives to polythene bags. It has also to ensure that trucks carrying polythene bags do not enter Jammu and Kashmir. There is also an urgent need of setting up polythene recycling plants and insulation plants which are eco-friendly for decomposing used polythene. In 2015, the government-owned JK Agro Industries collaborated with an Italian company Earth Soul for the manufacture of ‘bio-plastics made of corn, wheat, and potato starch. Later, the land was identified at Baribrahmna, Jammu for the manufacturing of eco-friendly bags. Unfortunately, such steps are not taken to their logical conclusion. At times the plans are not implemented as desired and a result, the problem continues to remain un-tackled. There is also a need to incentivize the business of recycling. Waste to energy solutions too need to be explored.
Besides the government, people at large too have a role to play and the entire blame cannot be put on the folks at the helm. People not just carelessly use polythene, they also do not dispose of it properly. Polythene bags can be found littered everywhere from the markets and roads in the residential to tourist spots and water bodies. Locals need to rediscover the habit of carrying bags to the markets for buying vegetables, fruits, and groceries in general. The shopkeepers too can be asked to encourage people to carry their own bags for groceries even as the government needs to launch a fresh drive against the rampant use of polythene. A campaign in the print, electronic and social media too is the need of the hour besides launching awareness drives in schools, colleges, and other educational institutions. The religious heads have been roped in to speak against the drug menace in the past and they can do the same vis-a-vis polythene. There is not going to be an overnight change but we need to make a fresh start and have long term policy ranging from reducing its consumption to investments in recycling.