This is the age of plastic we are living in. As plastic cannot degrade, it has been on the planet since its inception and has become a part of our lives to that extent that not a single moment we spend in our day when a plastic object is not around. To fight this menace of everlasting plastic which has damaged our environment largely, the Government of India has implemented a nationwide ban on single-use plastic. How much is it possible for us to remain plastic-free? Is imposition of the ban right at this point of time when the industry is already struggling with the economic slowdown?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech, delivering a loud and clear message to free the country from single-use plastic, has created a stir across the nation. The Government of India has worked on the preparatory measures to implement a nation-wide ban on single-use plastic and as expected the government announced the ban on October 2, the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Comprehending the situation ahead of it, not only government offices and organisations stopped using plastic cutlery and other single-use plastic materials but the private companies also started contributing to the cause. Big names like Amazon, Flipkart, also announced a ban on using polythene as a wrapping material they have been using till date. Air India joined the initiative by banning the use of single-use plastic in their flights. Similarly, Vistara airlines have also planned to contribute by abandoning single-use plastic cutlery used in its flights. Looking at the current scenario a concern ascends, initiatives taken to curb plastic pollution are no doubt commendable, but are we prepared with the right alternatives, and if yes, then how accessible are the eco-friendly replacements of single-use plastic. Also, are the plastic manufacturers on the same page with government.
Effect on plastic industry
On October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech said that phasing out single-use plastic is essential not only for the environment but also for the safety of aquatic beings which suffer from plastic waste dumped in rivers and oceans. But, looking at the economic condition of the country the Government of India stated that in this time of economic slowdown when the plastic industry is struggling hard to cope up, the government cannot impose a blanket ban on single-use plastic. Small plastic bottles and pharma products will be exempted from the ban as the apt alternatives are not available but, products like plastic bags, cups, plates, straws and small multi-layered sachets used for packaging will be banned.
Industrialists and more important bodies like Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) raised concerns saying that due to unavailability of apt alternatives the sales of products wrapped in plastic might drop significantly causing huge losses. FICCI said that completely phasing out single-use plastic will have multifactorial effects. The most probable one would be rise in prices of most edible products as the manufacturers would need to shift to plastic alternatives.
Plastic ban supporters
Although, the plastic industry might face losses which would, in turn, have to be borne by the consumers and a major chunk of the Indian population has enthusiastically welcomed the Government of India’s initiative and many states like Maharashtra, Odisha, Goa, and many more have already banned single-use plastic.
Moreover, to support the government’s initiative NGOs across the nation are coming forward to make eco-friendly alternatives of plastic bags like jute bags, cloth bags, etc. more accessible to people. Apang Seva Niketan is one such NGO in Nagpur where 12 physically-challenged men and women from the nearby localities make paper and cloth bags which are priced from
5 to15. Also, the Centre for Sustainable Development, Eco-Friendly Living Foundation and Mahatma Buddheshiya Sanstha from Nagpur are making cloth bags and promoting them in public parks from the past one year.
Not only NGOs but also many start-ups have started focusing on solutions to the growing plastic problem and have started a whole line of products which are eco-friendly, organic and a perfect replacement for single-use plastic. A few of them have also focused on recycling techniques for reusing the existing waste plastic and turn it into a product which can be utilised in day-to-day life.
Delhi based NGOs like Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, Swechha, and more have contributed actively to support the cause by coming up with alternate eco-friendly options, promoting them and making them more accessible to people to shun the use of single-use plastic.
Words of Mahatma
It has been said that Indian Swaraj will be the rule of the majority community, i.e., the Hindus. There could not be a greater mistake than that. If it were to be true, I for one would refuse to call it Swaraj and would fight it with all the strength at my command, for to me Hind Swaraj is the rule of all people, is the rule of justice. Whether, under rule, the ministers were Hindus or Musalmans or Sikhs and whether legislatures were exclusively filled by the Hindus or Musalmans or any other community, they would have to do even-handed justice.
Today pure water, good earth, fresh air is unknown to us. If we make wise use of these five powers and if we eat the proper and the balanced diet, we shall have done the work of the ages. For acquiring this knowledge, we need neither degrees nor crores of money. What we need is a living faith in God, a zeal for service, an acquaintance with the five powers of nature and a knowledge of dietetics. All this can be acquired without wasting time in schools and colleges.
A sense of national or social sanitation is not a virtue among us. We may take a kind of a bath, but we do not mind dirtying the well or the tank or the river by whose side or in which we perform ablutions. I regard this defect as a great vice which is responsible for the diseases that spring from insanitation, because of the disgraceful state of our villages, our towns and the river banks.
Swadeshi and Gram Swaraj
I suggest to you we are departing from one of the sacred laws of our being when we leave our neighbour and go out somewhere else in order to satisfy our wants…lf we follow the Swadeshi doctrine, it would be your duty and mine to find out neighbours who can supply our wants and to teach them to supply them where they do not know how to proceed, assuming that there are neighbours who are in want of healthy occupation. Then every village of India will almost be a self-supporting and self-contained unit, exchanging only such necessary commodities with other villages as are not locally productive.
I have no doubt in my mind that we add to the national wealth if we help the small-scale industries. I have no doubt also that true Swadeshi consists in encouraging and reviving these home industries. That alone can help the dumb millions. It also provides an outlet for the creative faculties and resourcefulness of the people. It means direct employment for the unemployed millions. It may harness all the energy that at present runs to waste. It holds the hope to bring a ray of light into the dark dilemma miscalled cottages, of the villagers this is a constructive, not a destructive programme.
Village Industry and Swaraj
In seeking to revive such village industries as are capable of being revived… I am trying to do what every lover of village life, everyone who realises the tragic meaning of the disintegration of villages is doing or trying to do. Why am I turning back the course of modern civilization, when I ask the villager to grind his own meal, eat it whole, including the nourishment bran, or when I ask him to turn his sugarcane into ‘gur’ for his own requirements, if not for sale? Am I turning back the course of modern civilization when I ask the villagers not merely to grow raw produce, but to turn it into marketable products and thereby add a few more pies to their daily income?
Regeneration of Rural India
The villagers should develop such a degree of skill that articles prepared by them should command a ready market outside. When our villages are fully developed, there will be no dearth in them of men with a high degree of skill and artistic talent. There will be nothing in life worth having, which will not be had in the villages. Today the villages are dung heaps. Tomorrow they will be like tiny gardens of Eden where dwell highly intelligent folk whom no one can deceive or exploit. The reconstruction of the villages should not be organised on a temporary but permanent basis.