Marine Plastic Pollution

News: According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Annual Report on Implementing the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, the plastic waste generated in 2018-19 was 3.3 million tonnes per year (roughly 9,200 tonnes per day).

Background:

  • The Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Annual Report on Implementing the Plastic Garbage Rules, 2016, is the only regular estimate of the quantum of plastic waste generated in India. According to it, the waste generated in 2018-19 was 3,360,043 tonnes per year (roughly 9,200 tonnes per day).
  • Given that total municipal solid waste generation is between 55 and 65 million tonnes per day, plastic waste contributes about 5-6 per cent of total solid waste generated in India.
  • Only nine per cent of all plastic waste has ever been recycled. Approximately 12 per cent has been burnt, while the remaining 79 per cent has accumulated in landfills. Plastic waste is blocking our sewers, threatening marine life and generating health risks for residents in landfills or the natural environment.

Marine Plastic:

  • The main sources of marine plastic are land-based, from urban and storm runoff, sewer overflows, beach visitors, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, construction, and illegal dumping.
  • Ocean-based plastic originates mainly from the fishing industry, nautical activities, and aquaculture.
  • Under the influence of solar UV radiation, wind, currents and other natural factors, plastic fragments into small particles, termed microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) or nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm).
  • In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants in health and beauty products, such as cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny particles easily pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and lakes.

Concerns:

  • Plastic waste blocks our sewers, threatening marine life and generating health risks for residents in landfills or the natural environment. The financial costs of marine plastic pollution are significant as well.
  • According to a forecast made in March 2020, the direct harm to the blue economy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be USD 2.1 billion per year.
  • Enormous social costs accompany these economic costs. Residents of coastal regions suffer from the harmful health impacts of plastic pollution and waste brought in by the tides.
  • Boats may become entangled in abandoned or discarded fishing nets or their engines may become blocked with plastic debris. It can create problems for industries such as Shipping, fisheries and aquaculture and maritime tourism which affect livelihood of the coastal community.

Solutions:

  • Identifying plastic items that can be replaced with non-plastic, recyclable, or biodegradable materials is the first step. Find alternatives to single-use plastics and reusable design goods by working with product designers.
  • Plastics are inexpensive because they are made with substantially subsidized oil and may be produced at a lower cost, with fewer economic incentives to employ recycled plastics.
  • Developing tools and technology to assist governments and organizations in measuring and monitoring plastic garbage in cities. ‘Closing the loop’ projectof the UN assists cities in developing more inventive policy solutions to tackle the problem. A similar approach can be adopted in India. 
  • All catering operations should be prohibited from using single-use plastics. To encourage workers and clients to improve their habits, all single-use goods can be replaced with reusable items or more sustainable alternatives.
  • Extended responsibility can be applied in the retail (packaging) sector, where producers are responsible for collecting and recycling products that they launch into the market.
  • Beach and river clean-ups, public awareness campaigns explaining how people’s actions contribute to marine plastic pollution (or how they may solve it) and disposable plastic bag bans and levies.
  • Government ministries at the national and local levels must collaborate in the development, implementation and oversight of policies, which includes participation from industrial firms, non-governmental organisations and volunteer organisations. Instead of acting in silos, all these stakeholders must collaborate and synchronise with one another.