Two people died when Ghazipur landfill site in Delhi, a garbage mound the size of several stories came crashing down in September this year. This should alarm us regarding the growing problem of plastic waste management. Have you ever wondered where your plastic grocery bag ends up? Most of it ends up in some landfill site at the periphery of your city. A few Government advertisements have raised awareness about segregating waste material at home, but how many of us take measures to reverse the tide? We are living in a world where our reliance on plastic is completely non reversible. Our house contains more plastic products than it did 50 years ago. Everything from water to food products comes in plastic packets or containers.
There are two major categories of plastic, reusable, recyclable plastic and one time use plastic, and it is the latter that is more threatening as it points to its expendability. Some of the waste is used to make electricity. Because of quality waste, little energy is produced. Due to lack of leachate treatment facility, byproducts resulting from this seep into ground water. But how many of the plastic waste is recycled? Studies suggest that around 90 percent of plastic bottles are recycled in Norway. But in India, there are no figures because firstly we don’t have a system of waste segregation in our houses owing to poor waste management infrastructure. All waste goes in one garbage bin. Indians by nature are against any kind of wastage, earlier houses would keep newspapers, and empty plastic, glass bottles in storage and whenever the local scrap dealer would come by, he would buy the product for a small amount of money. But with increasing consumerism, everything is expendable. The fact that plastic is highly versatile and durable has led to its use in everything that proves to be its greatest curse. As we can easily throw a plastic bag out because we know it is cheap and expendable. Had it been something made of other metal like steel or cloth, we would have thought twice before discarding it. This indiscriminate use of plastic is leading to environmental degradation on a massive scale. In the absence of formal recycling programmes, the informal economy of trash collection can fuel recycling schemes if only we did not throw away plastic bottles as expendable and cheap trash.
It is the curse of globalisation which has made matters worse. We do not have a waste segregation policy at home, therefore it is left to the rag pickers to sift the recyclable from the useless in those heaps that are found in almost all cities. In supermarkets, whenever you buy a vegetable, it is wrapped in one time use plastic bags which again are useless. Zero waste grocery stores where consumers bring their own containers seem a far cry because it is too much of an effort. Plastic is recyclable but is it good for us to drink from plastic bottles? Research show that plastic may leach into drinkable food items. It takes 500 years for a plastic bottle to decompose, whereas for a banana peel it takes only a few days. Also, when it does it breaks up into small particles called microplastics which contaminate ground reservoirs of water.
There is a need to make policies which can reduce our dependence on plastic especially as far as food products are concerned. But it is in the interest of big corporations to keep peddling all foods in plastic wrappers because of its low cost. However, they also need to take the onus of the waste disposal problem created by these products. Dieticians say chips and processed foods are not good for us. And the plastic in which it is packed is not good for the environment. Can we conclude that our health and environmental wellbeing go hand in hand. One can argue that we need to revive our old grandmother’s way of life of which plastic was never a part. It is high time we became responsible consumers who care not only about where their food is coming from, but also where their garbage is disposed and how can we minimise it.
(The author is Assistant Professor Department of English Bhaderwah Campus)