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Plastic Waste in IndiaIndia produces 15 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, and most cities and towns in the country do not have the means to manage this. The lack of integrated solid waste management systems leads to numerous health and ecological crises. The burden of this issue falls on the Safai Saathis, or waste pickers, who collect and sort through waste daily. The job is dangerous and has little reward. Stepping in to tackle this issue is the United Nations Development Program’s Plastic Waste Management Programme. This project improves upon existing waste management systems to mitigate the dangerous effects of plastic waste in India. Before delving into the project, it is important to understand why plastics are so harmful in the first place.

Why Are Plastics so Harmful?

First, there is enough plastic waste on this planet to cover it four times over. Plastic waste can be found from the deepest depths of the ocean all the way to the clouds in the form of air pollution. There are even microplastics in people that come from food and water. Plastic waste build-up clogs sewage systems, thereby polluting rivers, groundwater resources and the air.

There are numerous implications of plastic waste in India. The waste harms animals who ingest or entangle themselves in it. The carcinogenic chemicals found in plastic can cause severe issues for human health, such as hormonal or genetic disorders, interference with the endocrine system and damage to reproductive health. Land pollution is yet another consequence of plastic waste. The plastics leach hazardous chemicals into the land, which destroys its capacity to support life.

More than this, plastic waste never actually goes away, and 95% of that waste does not get recycled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost every piece of plastic ever made is still on Earth today. This is why it is mandatory to have waste management systems that can recycle old plastic and manufacture new things out of it. In other words, plastic waste is the ideal candidate for a circular economy.

UNDP Plastic Waste Management Programme

The work of this project can greatly aid in the fight against plastic waste in India. The main objective of the project is to establish a sustainable, community-led approach to efficient recycling. The initiative operates in 20 cities throughout India with 22 Swachhta Kendras (material recovery centers). It is designed to lower the devastating impacts on environmental and human health through the enhancement of sustainable plastic waste management practices.

According to the UNDP, the four main components of this project are to:

  1. “Create a socio-technical model for taking plastic waste management from informal to formal economy.
  2. Establish Material Recovery Centres for sustained practices in waste management.
  3. Institutionalize Swachhta Kendras within governance framework structures and improved socioeconomic conditions of waste pickers.
  4. Develop technology-supported knowledge management: Promote Cloud-based traceability, accountability and digital governance along waste value chain through our technical partner Mindtree through field implementing partners.”

According to a source from UNDP India, the greatest challenges to this program lie within the general lack of awareness by citizens of the threats related to handling plastic waste in India. For example, better waste management programs and access to education can prevent deadly practices like burning plastic waste and open dumping in channels and gutters. This project enhances methods of material recovery, separation and recycling. In addition, it also creates jobs, addresses better social security measures and positively impacts the livelihoods of waste pickers.

Safai Saathis

One of the most profound outcomes of this ongoing project is the initiative to improve the standards of living of Safai Saathis. Before the UNDP stepped in, waste pickers worked without the use of any safety equipment. Exposure to so much waste puts their health at risk. Because of the UNDP Waste Management Programme, the lives of many Safai Saathis strengthen in safety and social security.

Safai Saathis are deprived of social benefits and stuck in an abusive system. A great emphasis of the UNDP’s work is to ensure their dignity and social inclusion, as well as to increase their access to health care and self-help groups. As a result of the help of the UNDP, many have seen an increase in income. The workers also experience social upliftment from opening bank accounts and improved working conditions.

The fight against plastic waste in India is multifaceted and constantly progressing. Circular innovations like this Waste Management Programme turn unfathomable amounts of waste into new and useful materials, empowers communities and protect the health and safety of everyone in India.

Rochelle Gluzman
Photo: Flickr

Plastic Waste in IndiaA Mumbai beach called Versova was covered in used plastic for the longest time. Imagine bottles, dirty plates, bags and wasted plastic skewed all over so that Versova did not look like a beach, but rather a large landfill. The United Nations branded this now, virgin stretch of shoreline the “world’s largest beach clean-up project”. This restoration job took 21 months and involved the cleaning of 2.5 kilometers of the beach. In total, volunteers picked up 5.3 million kilograms of trash and plastic.

Volunteers

Afoz Shah, a lawyer, and his volunteers made the elimination of plastic waste a reality for Versova beach. Shah took initiative one day in 2015 to pick up the trash he saw on his walks. Eventually, his neighbor joined him and that led to 1,000 volunteers pulling up their sleeves and getting dirty. Shah has also taken it upon himself to educate the locals about sustainable waste practices to residents who live along the coastline. Fifty-five thousand citizens live in the Versova beach area.

The Problem: Plastic Waste in India

The mass amount of wasted plastic Shah and his volunteers found on this beach is just a peek into the throw-away mentality of India. People have littered several other beaches nearby with plastic. Creeks are transporting tons of plastic to beaches with their currents. These creeks run by slums and are turned into sewers, dragging the plastic into the waters. Sadly, most slums have no garbage pick-up. As a result, most inhabitants throw their trash into the water to become someone else’s problem.

The Solutions

The government is now paying residents to collect plastic bags. The government wants to promote that collecting plastic bags is a means of income in the hopes of deterring the laissez-faire mindset amongst Indians when it comes to wasted plastic.

In fact, municipal authorities are now starting to criminalize the use of plastic bags. These new laws can come with $366 fines and jail time. Companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks are even feeling the heat to change their packaging. Plastic pollution in India is affecting water sources by blocking up streets and waterways, but hopefully, these stern new laws will make the streets clear.

Thirteen million tons of plastic end up in the world’s ocean every single year. Imagine dumping two trucks full of trash every minute into the ocean. The UNEP advises that plastic not only threatens marine life but also human life. Hopefully, more countries will take a page from India’s book and start implementing strict laws towards plastic waste.

So far, the work of the volunteers to clear Versova beach has had a significant impact. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Olive Ridley turtles have started hatching on the beach. Olive Ridley turtles are the smallest in the ocean and no one has spotted them in decades. So far, 80 of the Olive Ridley turtles have survived and made it to the Arabian Sea.

– Jennifer O’Brien
Photo: Flickr

Plastic waste in IndiaPlastic waste in India has collectively reached 8.3 billion tons throughout the past 70 years. This is inclusive of plastic bags, plastic bottles, packaging, straws, spoons and forks and much more. To picture how much 8.3 billion tons would look like, compare it to 1 billion elephants or 822,000 Eiffel Towers.

Plastic Poses a Threat to the Sea Life

This immense amount of plastic waste in India often ends up polluting the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. It acts as entrapments to the natural habitats. When ingested by fishes, the chemicals that compose the plastic poisons them and make them inedible for consumption. In other cases, plastic packaging such as the rings for canned sodas pose as a threat to wildlife like Turtles as it can strangle them. Additionally, the sea creatures view plastic waste as predators that interfere with their natural food consumption. This makes these animals starve as they find it difficult to approach their natural food source.

Plastic Waste in India Affects the Livelihood of Fishermen

Fishing is one of the primary occupations for people living on the coasts of India. For many, that is the only source of income. The problem of plastic waste in the sea is affecting the livelihood of fishermen to a great extent.

Recently, fishermen and women in India have begun to filter through, wash and sort the plastic collected from the sea. Those that are too damaged or far too recycled, are further recycled. While the plastic that is in near-perfect form is shredded and sold to construction companies. It is shredded into a consistency finer than confetti and used to build up the asphalt used to pave roads.

Using Plastic to Construct Roads

There are various benefits to using recycled plastics over regular plastics, especially in terms of constructing roads. By using recycled plastic, one can save approximately 1 ton of asphalt. In addition, cost wise, it provides approximately 8 percent profit. Furthermore, addressing the influx of plastic waste in India paves way for new jobs for many unemployed citizens.

In terms of quality, roads constructed with the help of recycled plastic tends to be more durable against weather conditions such as floods and high temperatures. A variety of smaller plastic shredding businesses have risen in order to support this new form of construction.

The Process of Utilizing Plastic Waste

The process involved in constructing roads from recycled plastic is relatively simple. First, the different kinds of plastic wastes are sorted, cleaned and dried. Then, it is shredded into a fine confetti texture. After that, it is melted at 170 degrees Celcius. To this, hot bitumen, a mixture used to build roads, is added. Once this mixture is complete, it is further mixed with asphalt concrete and laid out into foundations.

This technique of utilizing plastic waste to build roads has been already put to practice in 11 states throughout India. Some of these places include Halls Road, Ethiraj Silai Street and Sardar Patel Street. Currently, 100,000 kilometers of roads have been built.

One of the leading cities to implement this technique is Chennai. So far, 160,000 kilograms of plastic have been reused. In turn, 1.035 kilometers of road has been built. By following the mantra of reduce, reuse and recycle, plastic waste in India is being redirected to better the country.

Jessica Ramtahal
Photo: Flickr