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Plastic is killing us slowly – But are we doing enough?

We invented this miracle material that simplified our lives, now we are drowning in it. Plastic is at the forefront of the throwaway culture we have all happily embraced – one that is now fast filling up landfills and choking all our water bodies. Plastic pollution has become a big threat to our planet and everything it contains. Yet, our dependency on it is at an all-time high.

Right from brushing our teeth to working on our devices from shopping for groceries to packing our food, plastics are a part of our everyday lives. It’s even in the food we eat and the water we drink.

The world has produced 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic in the last 70 years. About 80% of that plastic has remained intact – slowly poisoning our land and sea. The situation today has reached an alarming level.

We produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Half of them are single-use items like bottles, grocery bags, cutleries and straws which take about 450 years to break down

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The Oceanic woes

All our polluted waters ultimately flow into the ocean, filling it with trash that simply does not belong there. Huge floating garbage patches and washed up trash that has become a common sight are mostly just plastic. Yet what we see is just the tip of the iceberg as a huge majority of the marine litter sinks to the ocean bed, killing marine life.

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Not only does plastic absorb toxic chemicals they also slowly break down into microplastics. These are then consumed by marine species and ultimately end up in the food chain.

A staggering eight million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. If this dumping continues, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050

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90% of all plastic waste that ends up in the ocean comes from just 10 rivers in the world. Asian countries are clearly the villains as eight of these rivers originate here including the Brahmaputra and the Ganga that flows through India. We are also among the top countries that mismanage more than 80% of its waste.

India’s Plastic Story

India generates close to 26000 tonnes of plastic waste every day. Of this, 80% plastic gets discarded as waste with atleast 40% going uncollected

Being a developing economy, we are also one of the fastest growing plastic markets in the world. Though our per capita consumption is quite low compared to the Global North, it is set to increase exponentially in the coming years due to rapid urbanization, rising incomes, booming retail and e-commerce industry etc.

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With this growing demand, the plastic processing industry is expected to see an annual growth rate of 10.5 % between 2015 and 2020. The annual plastic consumption is also expected to rise to 20 million tonnes by 2020.

However, what is of major concern is that more than half of the plastic we use today is of the single-use kind, most of which cannot be recycled. Despite this, India is doing better than other countries in terms of recycling its plastic waste.

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To counter the plastic menace in the country, 24 states and UT’s have ordered a full or partial ban on sale and use of plastic bags although its success is very much debatable. The country also recently pledged to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022.

Creativity in times of Crisis

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Countries across the world have started looking at unique ways to counter the growing plastic waste. India on its part has started building roads that use plastic. So has Scotland and Netherlands. African countries are making plastic homes and boats while Sweden and Norway generate energy from their plastic waste.

Still, these are desperate measures in desperate times. Reducing plastic footprint will take a lot more than reuse and bans. What’s needed is effective implementation and a sense of collective responsibility starting at an individual level.

It’s time we beat plastic pollution before it beats us. The mantra is quite simple: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

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