How to Deal with the Perils of Plastic Items?

The global plastic market today is valued at a net worth of $468.3 billion as of 2020 and it is expected to grow at 6.0% CAGR between the years 2020 to 2025. As per the data derived from various sources, the production of plastic increased from 1.5 million metric tonnes in 1950 to 368 million metric tonnes in 2019. Due to such rapid expansion of the plastic industry, the perils of ineffective disposal of plastic items are ever-increasing. The perils are, however, not irreversible and can be kept under check by adopting certain measures of waste disposal. 

But before we learn more about the dangers of ineffective plastic disposal, let’s learn more about the environmental threats of such inefficiency. 

What are the Perils of Plastic Items? 

Every type of plastic comes with certain health concerns including chronic skin conditions, hormonal disruption and adverse effects on the central nervous system, and more. Since plastic is indispensably used in almost everything we see around us, the adverse effects of plastic on our health and ecosystem is inevitable. 

Challenges to Our Health 

  • Certain types of plastics like PVC and Polystyrene come with serious health hazards and therefore, their use must be minimized. 
  • Most of the plastic items used for packaging are difficult to recycle. Moreover, recycled plastic packaging includes toxic chemicals which are a greater threat to our health.  
  • Diseases like cancer, chronic inflammation, diabetes, and various immune system diseases are some of the many health impacts caused by plastic. 

Challenges to the Environment 

  • Plastic lodges inside the digestive tracks of marine animals and birds, there by causing malnutrition, slow poisoning, and intestinal blockage. 
  • Only a fraction of the plastic produced is biodegradable. Additionally, all plastics are not recyclable. Therefore, they pose a greater threat to the environment. 
  • Plastic is often burned to make more space in the landfill. However, plastic burning releases hazardous gases in the air and contributes to air and land pollution. 

Although recycling of plastic is important to ensure that the effects on health and the environment are minimized, we see that only 14% of plastic is collected for recycling. And since a major portion of plastic is left out in the environment, waste management without enforcement is difficult. 

Effective Plastic Waste Management 

Informal sectors and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) play a key role in the disposal and recycling of plastic waste. To increase the recycling rate of plastics, the ULBs need to work collaboratively with the informal sector. It is also important to educate solid waste management units in the informal sector to enhance their plastic waste management capacity via workshops. Not only do such initiatives efficiently resolve the waste management problem, but it also improves the economic and social fabric. Linking the solid waste management workers in the informal sector with government schemes for life and health insurance could be another effective way of driving these workers to work. 

Segregation of the waste at source is an important consideration that makes plastic waste management a comparatively easy affair. The waste must be sorted into three categories primarily: dry, wet and hazardous. Sorting wastes into these categories makes it easier for solid waste management workers to recover and recycle dry waste. 

The government is also liable to come up with a comprehensive strategy that prevents the generation of excessive plastic wastes. Coming up with such initiatives not only resolve the problem of waste management but also generates employment for various sections of people.  

The Government of India has laid down a certain set of rules and guidelines about solid waste management in the year 2016. Segregation at source, collection and disposal of sanitary waste, the user fee for collection, collect back scheme for packaging waste, water processing and treatment and promotion of waste to energy are some of the highlights of Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016. The Government has pushed students, NGOs and people from certain other communities to have stakes in the initiative so that the issues are managed better. Effective management of solid waste is incomprehensible without financial as well as technical support. 

Conclusion 

The government is trying to come up with massive National Action Plans that include everything from promoting domestic recycling to providing sustainable alternatives to hazardous types of plastic. Nevertheless, it is as important that we comply with the legal rules and guidelines to bring about a positive change.  

Why Is Waste Management A Challenge in India?

The problem of waste management in India is as vast as it is tricky. The country generates more than 960 million tonnes of waste each year which is inclusive of organic waste, recyclable waste, and hazardous waste. However, the collection of waste remains inadequate with less than 60% of the waste being collected, of which a mere 15% is processed. With the increase in urban population, the shortcomings owing to collection transport, and disposal of waste have been on the rise. 

There has been an increasing attempt to incorporate waste management systems that retain resources from the utilization of specialized waste processing facilities. Myriad opportunities like thermal treatment or methane extraction from landfills are yet to be discovered to facilitate effective and enhanced waste management in India. 

To understand the barriers and challenges to waste management in India, let us study waste generation, characterization, and current waste management in India. 

Waste Generation in India 

Waste generated in India grows at an average of 4% as per a study conducted in 2016. One of the major contributors to the management of solid wastes in India is the increasing population. Enhancing urbanization and geographical, climatic, and linguistic diversity are some of the other causes of waste management in India. 

The waste generated annually is a by-product of mining, industrial, agricultural, municipal, and other processes. Out of the 960 million tonnes of solid waste generated in India, 350 million tonnes are agricultural waste and 290 million tonnes of waste is inorganic, generated by the industrial sectors. Moreover, as a conclusion to a study, the annual waste generation would reach as high as 19 billion by the year 2025. Owing to the constraints with regards to effective waste management, there are various qualitative guidelines recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the treatment and transportation of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. 

Characterization of Waste 

The quantity of municipal solid waste generated depends on various factors like living conditions, type and extent of commercial activities, season, and eating habits. Waste generation also depends on the city and region and therefore, we can categorize various cities based on municipal solid waste generation. For instance, Maharashtra tops the list of states with the maximum MSW generation, measured in MT per day. Maharashtra is followed by West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and Uttar Pradesh. Stats like Andhra Pradesh and Kerala generate fewer wastes MT per day as compared to the list of the state above them. The remaining states generate as much as 7682 MT of waste per day. 

Waste generated can be characterized differently between high-income groups, and lower-income groups. Due to the high standard of living of the high-income groups, they generate more inorganic waste including plastic, textiles, glass, and metals. Such wastes are particularly non-hazardous. However, hazardous wastes like paints, medicines, are also a part of municipal solid waste generated in urban spaces. In cities with well-developed healthcare infrastructure, biomedical waste like syringes, bandages, and sanitary material is another major contributor to MSW. 

The MSW (Management and Handling) Rules 2000 has mentioned a set of rules to be implemented for collection, segregation, and transportation and processing of MSW. Chandigarh has incorporated the infrastructure for the treatment of MSW effectively in a way that it has improved the management of sorganic and inorganic wastes as compared to other cities. 

Challenges in Collection of Urban Waste 

The process of waste collection in urban areas begins with the door-to-door collection of waste by the contractors employed by the government. The waste is then dumped into the landfills, following which the recyclables are segregated from the heap of mixed waste. In the process, there are various shortcomings. Some of these are listed in the points below: 

  • The contractor often dumps the waste illegally into vacant plots just to save the cost of transportation of the waste across the city. 
  • Since the contractor’s revenues depend on the MT of wastes dumped, he is incentivized to dump more waste in the landfills. This might result in the landfill having an unmanageable amount of waste which leads to the burning of waste to create more space in the landfill. 

Impact of Ineffective Waste Management 

Challenges in the collection and transportation of waste adversely affect human health. The burning of garbage is one of the root causes of asthma, emphysema, and heart attack. Decomposed garbage, when unmanaged, also attracts myriad rodents and leads to the spread of various diseases like malaria and dengue. Dump yards are also prone to accidental fires which release hazardous smoke into the air, detrimental to the cardiovascular and respiratory health of city dwellers. 

The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 specifies the guideline for effective management of waste. Waste generators have been mandated to segregate waste and bulk generators of waste are instructed to manage their waste. However, in both cases, there is no penalty for non-compliance. The set of rules also provide the directive to set up Waste to Energy Plants and levy fees on waste generators by the local bodies.