WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY | J&K's Environmental Challenges

Let eco-fragile J&K take lead in joining global campaign to ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’
WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY | J&K's Environmental Challenges
Photo: Mubashir Khan/GK

World Environment Day is being commemorated today to focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the global campaign #BeatPlasticPollution. Plastic is one the major sources of pollution and needs global efforts to check it before it devours our fragile eco-system.  
As per estimates, more than 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced globally every year. In absence of recycling facilities, an estimated 19-23 million tonnes end up in lakes, rivers and seas. Plastic waste after burning is combusted into toxic fumes affecting the environment. What is more dangerous and alarming is that microplastics reach our food and drinking water posing a serious threat to health.

World Environment Day brings together millions of people from across the globe. The objective of commemorating the day is to engage people in the effort to protect and restore Earth. This year marks the event’s 50th anniversary. This is a global platform where people from more than 150 countries participate in this United Nations international day, which celebrates environmental action and the power of governments, businesses and individuals to create a more sustainable world. The event has been led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since its inception in 1973.

World Environment Day 2023 is hosted by Côte d'Ivoire in partnership with the Netherlands. Côte d'Ivoire is showing leadership in the campaign against plastic pollution. It has banned use of plastic bags shifting to reusable packaging since 2014.

Startups on tackling pollution have come up in the country’s largest city, Abidjan. Côte d'Ivoire is spearheading diverse treatments for plastic pollution. Netherlands is a signatory of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment Global Partnership on Plastic Pollution and Marine Litter.  The Netherlands and the European community have committed to reduce production and consumption of single-use plastic, by replacing it with sustainable alternatives.

India as per estimates generates around 3.4 million tonnes of plastic waste annually and only 30 percent of it is recycled. As per estimates, over 51,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in J & K annually. In absence of a proper mechanism to collect and segregate plastics, non-bio-degradable items especially plastic bottles and polythene end up in water bodies, landfills and forest areas in the Union Territory.  

The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change had issued notification on August 12, 2021 by virtue of which manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of identified single use plastic (SUP) items shall be prohibited across the country with effect from July 1, 2022. Subsequently the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Committee (JKPCC) issued public notice prohibiting production, stocking, distribution, sale and use of single-use plastic in the Union Territory. As per the notification, the manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities shall be prohibited with effect from July 1, 2022

The prohibited items include earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, candy sticks, ice-cream sticks, polystyrene, thermocol for decoration, plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straw, trays, wrapping or packaging films around sweet boxes. The banned items also include invitation cards and cigarette packets, plastic or PVC banners less than 100 microns, stirrers. However on the ground single use plastic is being openly sold and used in absence of regulation across J&K.
Being an eco-fragile zone, J&K is confronted with environmental challenges due to pollution of water bodies especially by dumping of single use plastic. In the wake of extensive damage to fragile environs due to plastic waste, the J&K High Court in 2006 had imposed complete ban on entry, use and sale of polythene bags at tourist places and healthcare institutions. On June 18, 2008, the J&K government banned all kinds of polythene bags in the state by issuing SRO 182 under the J&K Non-Biodegradable Material (Management, Handling and Disposal) Act, 2007. However, successive governments failed to implement the ban.

Surrounded by mountains, J&K receives lakhs of tourists throughout the year. Ironically, there is no mechanism in tourist destinations in J&K to prevent use or scientifically dispose of plastic waste especially in the form of used mineral water bottles and chips packets. Our mountains are littered with polythene and plastic bottles. Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar generates more than 500 metric tonnes of garbage on an average daily. The garbage includes a large quantity of non-bio-degradable items including plastic and polythene. There is no scientific mechanism to recycle plastic or segregate waste in Srinagar. As a result large quantities of used plastic are dumped into water bodies by unscrupulous persons.

In 2017, the Government had proposed to set-up a waste-to-energy plant at Achan area on Srinagar outskirts. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had fixed an 18-month timeframe to establish the facility but despite the passing of nearly six years, the project is yet to take off.  

World famous ski-resort Gulmarg in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district also doesn’t have a proper waste disposal mechanism. Tons of garbage including used plastic bottles, polythene and chips packets are openly dumped in forests taking toll on the fragile eco-system of the tourist resort.  

 In Sadiwara village in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, an initiative has been started to offer gold coins for collecting plastic waste to prevent pollution. The campaign has found takers and locals are gradually collecting plastic waste and exchanging it in lieu of gold coins. But more than lucrative offers and monetary gains, it is our religious obligation to protect our environment.

Plastic waste can be used as Alternative Fuel and Raw Material (AFR) in cement Kilns and Power Plants. Like in Bangalore, non-recyclable plastic waste can be used in construction of roads. This technology has been patented and certified by competent authorities.  A Petro- Chemical company has taken an initiative to collect the PET bottle waste from all over India and convert it into textile products. The company has installed Reverse Vending Machines at public places for collection of PET bottle waste. These collected bottles are recycled and used to make fabrics for bags, T-shirts and garments with natural fibres.

Studies have shown that 70 percent of plastic packaging products are converted into plastic waste in a short span of time. Plastics choke our water bodies, pollute groundwater and cause soil pollution.  We have to understand that plastic lasts for decades. By way of chemical reaction, dumped plastic releases toxic chemicals affecting flora and fauna in soil and water. Plastic is so noxious that it can make fertile green fields barren. If burnt, plastic can release hazardous gases which can cause many serious diseases besides fatal respiratory and neurological damage to humans. Though there are many policies and even so-called “Action Plans” on Plastic Waste Management in J&K, there is no implementation on the ground. More than fines, there is a need for stringent punishment to polluters as a deterrent for others.  

There is a need for eco-friendly models to properly recycle used plastics in J&K. Government in collaboration with stakeholders must start 4 R model—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Restore. Like our ancestors, we can use traditional items instead of plastic or polythene for our daily use. A jute or cloth bag can replace a polythene bag. Similarly paper or plates made of leaves can be used instead of thermocol plates. Our words for environmental conservation have to meet our deeds. We are not aliens but belong to planet Earth. We have to introspect.

We have done irreparable damage to our ecosystem and it is now or never a situation for us. Small eco-friendly measures will gradually make a big difference. Awareness programmes can be started in villages, colonies, educational institutions, religious places and hospitals to apprise people about ill-effects of plastic. We have to own this planet and ensure its preservation for generations to come. Our ancestors did their bit to pass on this planet to us in pristine form, now it is our turn to make our contribution so that future generations can remember us for good reasons, as saviours or nature not its destroyers.

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir

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