There is a bit of plastic everywhere, in our wallets, on our dining tables and kitchens, in our cars and buses and in our phones and offices. It is nearly impossible to imagine a world without plastics.
We almost always take the suffocation warning on plastic bags and packages seriously, keeping plastic packaging out of reach of babies and children. But we have not been as mindful with the planet. Of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic produced, 6.3 billion tonnes have been discarded. Every year, nearly 13 million tonnes of plastic waste are added to oceans. Given their durability, plastics do not decompose.
“A plastic bottle takes between 450-1000 years to decompose,” explained Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan.
Much of the growth in plastic production is driven by single use or disposable applications. Nearly 50 % of plastics used are single use products such as bottles, plastic bags, packaging, straws, stirrers, spoons and forks. Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags.
In India, 80 % of total plastic consumption is discarded as waste and official statistics say the country generates 25, 940 tonnes of plastic waste daily. At least 40% of this waste is uncollected.
There is a concerted effort to increase recycling of rigid plastic packaging by companies as well. But other single use plastics such as bags, candy wrappers, tobacco and pan masala sachets, soap wrappers and shampoo sachets are either too difficult or not lucrative enough to collect. These plastic items then find their way into landfills, unauthorised garbage dumps, or simply remain uncollected on road kerbs.
Eventually, these single-use plastic items clog rivers, other water bodies and the ocean. They are consumed by animals, and often find their way into our food systems.
In February this year, veterinarians operating on a bloated and infected six-year old cow brought into the Bihar Veterinary College in Patna removed 80 kilogrammes of plastic from its stomach. Though this was not the first time that doctors had removed polythene from an animal’s stomach, 80 kilogrammes of it from a single. Though this was not the first time that doctors had removed polythene from an animal’s stomach, 80 kilogrammes of it from a single animal was something of a record.