Save eco-fragile J&K from polythene, single use plastic pollution

Government with the help of stakeholders must enforce ban on these products to preserve environment
Back side of famous Ski-Resort Gulmarg seen littered.
Back side of famous Ski-Resort Gulmarg seen littered. Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Despite ban on polythene and single-use plastic, these products continue to be sold and used extensively in Jammu and Kashmir. More severe problem than sale and usage of polythene and single-use plastic is its unscientific disposal.

Polythene and single use plastic are polluting and choking our water bodies. The persistent problem with the system in J&K has been that there is hardly any implementation of important legislations. Laws and rules are framed but confined to books.

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 ear-buds 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. Ironically, on the ground single use plastic is being openly sold and used 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 polythene and 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.

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.

Plastic waste has become one of the major global problems. This year World Environment Day was commemorated to focus on solutions to plastic pollution under the global campaign #BeatPlasticPollution.

As per a report by the Swiss-based research consultancy Earth Action, the world has reached the annual point when authorities and people can no longer properly manage the plastic waste produced annually.

The study states that the amount of short-life plastic waste being produced annually exceeds the global capacity to manage it effectively. More than 68.5 million tonnes of short-life plastic will be mismanaged around the world and pollute the environment this year, it predicts.

The study estimates 43% of all plastic waste is projected to be mismanaged at the end of its life. This means 68.5 million tonnes of short-life plastics will pollute the environment this year alone.

The study states that the plastic waste crisis disproportionately impacts countries including Bangladesh, India and South Africa in the Global South. India forms part of the “waste sponges,” countries that have low consumption of plastic yet a high level of plastic pollution arising from it through plastic imports.

This means India will have to enhance its technology to scientifically dispose off plastics and polythene. As per a new study, certain fungi found in forests munch on trees and fallen logs to break down and digest the carbon within their wood and excrete it as carbon dioxide.

According to a paper published in journal PLOS One, these fungi can do the same thing with polluting plastics. White-rot fungi can use enzymes, proteins that accelerate the chemical reactions that take place within cells, to disintegrate the plastics.

We have to take lessons from Côte d’Ivoire, which in partnership with the Netherlands is showing leadership in the campaign against plastic pollution. It has banned use of plastic bags shifting to reusable packaging since 2014. The Netherlands and the European community have committed to reduce production and consumption of single-use plastic, by replacing it with sustainable alternatives.

Being one of the major tourist attractions globally, J&K doesn’t have a fool-proof scientific mechanism to scientifically dispose of plastic waste like mineral water bottles and chips packets. J&K’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 segregate waste at source or recycle it. As a result large quantities of used plastic are either dumped into water bodies or burnt.

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.

Same is the case with tourist resorts across the UT. 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 a toll on the fragile eco-system. Recently pictures of piles of waste accumulated in the ski-resort went viral evoking resentment from netizens and environmentalists.

On the pattern of Bangalore, the J&K Government must explore options to use plastic waste as Alternative Fuel and Raw Material (AFR) in cement factories. We can also use non-recyclable plastic waste in construction of roads as this technology has been successful in many states.

Used mineral water bottles can also be converted into textile products. 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. We have to learn how our government and people in neighboring Union Territory Ladakh has implemented a ban on single use plastic and polythene with thickness less than 120 microns. We have to understand that plastic lasts for decades.

By way of chemical reaction, dumped plastic releases toxic chemicals affecting flora and fauna and reach us back in a toxic way through our food chain. There must be a blanket ban on polythene and single-use plastic. Violators must face stringent punishment for causing irreparable damage to the environment.

Logically, ban on any product including polythene or single use plastic can only be enforced when there is an eco-friendly alternative. Even if vendors sell their products in polythene, it is the responsibility of people not to accept it. Why can’t people in J&K carry paper, cloth or jute bags for shopping and discourage use of polythene.

It is our religious, social and moral responsibility to preserve our environment. We should remember that our ancestors used traditional items made of natural things for their daily usage— from cooking to eating. They hardly generated harmful waste or polluted the environment.

It is high time we contribute our bit to save our environment so that our next generation won’t curse us for turning this planet into a garbage dump. We have to change our lifestyle and own nature so that we are remembered as nature saviours rather than destroyers and polluters!

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir

Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir