Single-use plastics are goods that are made primarily from fossil fuel–based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Single-use plastics are most commonly used for packaging and service ware, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and bags. Single-use plastic has among the highest shares of plastic manufactured and used — from packaging of items, to bottles (shampoo, detergents, cosmetics), polythene bags, face masks, coffee cups, cling film, trash bags, food packaging etc.
1.It is typically used once, but it needs hundreds of years to break down in landfills.
2.When plastic remains in the environment for long periods of time and does not decay, it turns into microplastics – first entering our food sources and then the human body, and this is extremely harmful.
3.The world’s oceans are packed with floating plastics, and the amount is constantly increasing. Processes such as wave motions, bacteria and seasonal changes affect the properties of the plastic in the ocean and convert them into the so-called micro-plastics, which are later eaten through plankton. These micro-plastics get in the mouth, stomachs and digestive system of fishes, shellfishes and birds, making it hard to breathe and eat. The non-decomposition of all these plastics becomes part of the food chain of aquatic and human life.
4.When disposable plastics degrade in the environment, they emit several greenhouse gases. When plastic is exposed to sunlight, it produces methane and ethylene, which have a detrimental effect. It has been determined that greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle account for 3.8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
PLASTIC WASTE MANAGEMENT POLICY OF INDIAN GOVERNMENT:
Keeping in view the adverse impacts of littered plastic on both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the Centre has banned the use of ‘single-use plastic’ from July 1, 2022. The manufacture, import, stocking, distribution, sale and use of following single-use plastic, including polystyrene and expanded polystyrene, commodities is now prohibited.
Also, the Ministry of Environment has launched new rules called the Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2022. The new rules classify plastics into three categories based upon their thickness and composition for better management of plastic waste. They also include:
a) Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): It covers reuse, recycling, use of recycled plastic content and end of life disposal by producers, importers and brand-owners. The term simply means the responsibility of a producer for the environmentally sound management of the product until the end of its life.
b) Centralized Online Portal: It calls for creating a centralized online portal by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). It will be used for the registration as well as filing of annual returns by producers, importers and brand-owners.
c) Environmental compensation: It shall be levied based upon polluter pays principle, with respect to non-fulfilment of EPR targets by producers, importers and brand owners. However payment of compensation will not absolve the liability and unfulfilled EPR obligations for a particular year will be carried forward to the next year for a period of three years.
d) Committee creation: It will be constituted by the CPCB under the chairmanship of CPCB chairman. It would recommend measures to the ministry for effective implementation of EPR, including amendments to Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) guidelines.
e) Extended Producer Responsibility Certificates: The guidelines allow for sale and purchase of surplus extended producer responsibility certificates.
CONCLUSION: Earlier this year, representatives from 175 countries including India at fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) agreed to end plastic pollution and formulate an internationally binding treaty by 2024. They pledged to address the full life of plastics from production to disposal, to end plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is a menace that needs to be urgently addressed. Global cooperation, national policies and individual-level efforts can go a long way in saving the planet- our only home!