Photo Essay: From footwear to guthka pouches, saving our seas from plastic pollution

By Rishabh Shrivastava

India is the 12th largest source of marine litter & is estimated to become the 5th largest by 2025. Water bodies are facing an enormous crisis of plastic pollution. On my recent visit to Goa, I document some of the most heart-wrenching photos of how plastic waste continues to pollute our seas.

It is estimated that almost 80% of marine plastic waste is generated due to land-based activities. Landfills, dump yards, open drains and local water bodies are some of the primary sources of marine plastic. Needless to say, this goes on to affect the rich marine biodiversity.

Today, cities and towns are trying hard to ensure scientific waste management but factors like increasing consumption, tourism, urbanization are only adding up to the plastic crisis in India. Additionally, the linear model of economy – take, make, waste – remains a big issue to address.

We have also kept ignoring the impact of plastic on human health. The growing evidence from all across the globe is showing a strong link between microplastics & human health. Studies are showing cancer/cell damage as key health concerns due to exposure to microplastics.

India’s legal and policy framework on waste management has evolved drastically in the last decade or so. The new waste management rules and their amendments have certainly put more onus on companies and urban local bodies (ULBs) to effectively tackle the growing problem of plastic waste.

Yet, the private sector efforts in solving the waste crisis and supporting local governments remain piecemeal. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) law has struggled to push companies to engage in transparent waste collection methods. The Product Responsibility Organization (PRO) approach, which is highly opaque, continues to be the top option for corporates.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the prime pollution control agency, has not only struggled to monitor the EPR process but has also been a laggard in terms of sharing updated data on collection and recycling. Moreover, the lack of coordination with State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) has only made the administrative challenge more complex.

There remains a large scope for more thorough assessments and studies evaluating the extent of the marine litter problem in India, causes of such pollution, mitigation ways, and most importantly, the impact of microplastics on human health. IITs, NITs and other leading research organizations should form some kind of consortium or working groups to carry out these tasks.

However, programs like Swach Survekshan and the decision by the Ministry of Environment to initiate a phase-wise ban on single-use plastics are some positives in our fight against plastic pollution. Moreover, the recent agreement by 175 nations in Nairobi to come up with the world’s first plastic treaty is a big boost. Examples of Indore, Ambikapur, Chandigarh, Surat are also great case studies to refer to and develop locally relevant interventions to tackle this growing problem.

At a policy level, the time has come to push for a circular economy, resource efficiency and address other issues linked with the linear consumption model. Bodies like Niti Aayog and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have a huge role to play in this.

Our seas are choking. We have very little time to act and save our planet!

Photo credit – Rishabh Shrivastava

Rishabh is a lawyer and writer working on issues of climate change, public health and social justice. He has worked with UNDP, Govt. of Uttarakhand and Chhattisgarh on plastic waste management. Rishabh is a Co-founder at TA and he tweets at @Writer_Rishabh.

The Analysis (TA) is a research and communication group working on the issues of Climate Change, Public Health, Gender and Human Rights. Feel free to share your submissions on these issues with us at contact@theanalysis.org.in

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