Seemingly, there was a time when mother earth stood in its pristine form, uninterrupted by mankind’s intervention. The ecosystem blooming with life, evolution so subtle and devoid of contamination. One could, but adore the beauty of creation and imagine the atmosphere oscillating with brimming hope and serenity sustaining the limitless biosphere our minds could ever fathom. The majestic mountains and oceans sprouting with life, the nutrient-rich rivers flowing with crystal clear waters, the birds building their nest with the organic twigs and straws, the shoal of fishes with sparkly visible scales swimming in clear streams, the oceans filled with lush aquatic creatures, and the land animals shrouded in green forest. How delightful would that be, to witness nature’s grandeur! Don’t you think?
Of course, such an environment still exists in reality but given the time frame, not for long. Why you may ask? Because human beings are part of that life equation. A species with higher intelligence and rational mind dominates the food chain in our ecosystem, where greed drives the desire for societal advancement and growth at the expense of earth’s natural resources. Mankind has broken nature’s equilibrium by setting in motion a force that is determined by exploitation, waste generation, and pollution. Anthropogenic activities over the years have ushered in numerous environmental issues, among which plastic pollution is one of the top contenders a byproduct of human invention, that has captured the spotlight in modern debates and scholarship on environmental issues.
Plastic pollution: A growing risk
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has labelled plastic pollution as a global problem, that is shown to be increasing periodically, altering natural processes and reducing ecosystems. Subsequently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (2021) indicates that over 400 million tons of plastic are produced every year out of which 14 million tons end up in the ocean and plastic waste makes up about 80 percent of the marine debris, impacting marine species in the form of ingestion and entanglement by plastic debris. Lia (2022) highlights the impact of plastic on animals especially land-based mammals like elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, and cattle. Most of the recorded cases are in line with plastic ingestion that causes intestinal blockage or at times trapped animals in entangled plastics. World Wide Fund for Nature, Australia (2023) in one of its recent reports, titled Plastic waste and climate change- what’s the connection? has disclosed the linkage between plastic manufacturing and greenhouse gases. It indicates that 4 percent of the world’s annual petroleum production is diverted to making plastic, promoting the emission of greenhouse gases and leading to climate change. The impact of plastic pollution on the environment is phenomenal and the argument goes on. Humans should not forget that all organisms share the same environment and both biotic and abiotic components are equally important for life to flourish. The staggering plastic waste generation disrupts the symbiotic relationship shared between human society and the environment, so to say we are not safe from the effects of plastic pollution, its harmful nature is cyclical as climate change and new health issues are vastly occurring around the globe. Speaking from an economic perspective, Olivera et al (2023) reveal how the industries of tourism are adversely affected by plastic waste, and aesthetic tourist hotspots are now erupting as plastic dumping areas (Olivera et al, 2023: 56- 75). From a cultural standpoint, Naess (1994) explores the impact of tourism on the cultures of the native people, where the ethics of conservation and protection of natural resources is gradually receding (Naess, 1994: 144-145). Subsequently, the impact of plastic pollution is globally felt by all the countries in the world.
Plastic pollution: Indian scenario
In the context of India, The Economic Times (2023) in its recent news article states that India recycles only 30 percent of the 3.4 million tonnes of plastic waste generation annually. Correspondingly, India is ranked as the 2nd country in the world for releasing the most plastic waste into the ocean, approximately about 126,513 tons as per, the 2021 World Population Review. India is also infamously considered as one of the dirtiest countries in the world, due to the high rate of population growth and poor domestic waste management. There are states with fractions of the population still surviving in unhygienic areas surrounded by waste, even the large metropolitan cities are not safe from such issues. Plastic waste has also penetrated the Northeast region of India, which is inhabited by a majority of the tribal population, a land that was once known for its strong relationship with ecology. But with the advent of time, globalization and modernization have paved the way for new exposure, inducing tribal people to adapt to a new mode of lifestyle. The regular usage of plastic in day-to-day life has now become part and parcel of the society, and gradually the production of plastic waste is increasing each day. To some extent, people are unable to live without plastics because of their habitual utility, inclusive of poor waste management and failure to find a better alternative for plastic. Thus, clean streets and rivers once abundant, are now very rare within the urban states.
So, is there a red line to this? Or are we just going to sit back and observe the devastating process as it consumes our future? Perhaps, now is the right time to make our stand! Why wait for the danger, when we can prevent it? As a matter of fact, the greatest problem of plastic waste is not the manufacturing of plastics but rather the process of regulating it. Plastics are non-biodegradable and can endure for hundreds of years without decomposing but if regulated properly through the process of three R’s (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle), the use of plastic will not be an additional environmental problem.
It is imperative to underscore the indispensability of community sensitization with regards to the aforementioned matter, as the ramifications of plastic waste are not readily discernible, but rather accrue gradually over time. Regrettably, individuals frequently fail to grasp the gravity of the predicament stemming from the improper management of plastic waste. Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge that despite the prevailing circumstances, there remains a glimmer of optimism. The human species, in its gradual evolution, is engaging in introspection, recognising its fallibilities, and devising a multitude of strategies to alleviate the predicament at hand. In contemporary society, a multitude of individuals who possess a fervent dedication to ecological preservation and serve as vanguards in the battle against the pernicious scourge of plastic pollution have emerged. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that the endeavours undertaken by these valiant eco-warriors and environmental activists, while commendable, may not in isolation prove to be entirely efficacious in addressing the formidable challenge at hand.
Let us be cognizant of the profound adage " Little drop of water makes a mighty ocean". It is incumbent upon us all to assume responsibility and align ourselves with the collective endeavour, to avert the jeopardization of our forthcoming days to the perils of plastic. As an individual endowed with rational faculties and burdened with intellectual obligations, let us collectively strive to overcome the scourge of plastic pollution, thereby paving the way for a more auspicious future. In drawing this discourse to a close, I shall invoke the wisdom of the venerable Mahatma Gandhi, the esteemed progenitor of our nation, who espoused the following maxim: "be the change that you wish to see in the world."
de Oliveira, Marina Monne; Sampaio, Romulo S.R.; and Sampaio, Patricia Regina Pinheiro. (2023). The Tourism Industry and Plastic Waste Policies - Comparative Perspectives from the Portuguese Experience. Journal of Comparative Urban Law and Policy: 6 (1), Article 4, 56-75. https://readingroom.law.gsu.edu/jculp/vol6/iss1/4
Lai, Olivia. (2022). The detrimental impact of plastic pollution on animals. Earth.Org. https://earth.org/plastic-pollution-animals/
Marine plastic pollution. (n.d.). IUCN. https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-brief/marine-plastic-pollution
Naess, Arne. (1994). Culture and environment. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. 20 (1), pp. 143-149.
Plastic pollution. (n.d.). UNEP - UN Environment Programme. https://www.unep.org/plastic-pollution
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Pti. (2023, January 12). India recycles only 30 percent of 3.4 MT plastic waste generated annually: Report. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/india-recycles-only-30-per-cent-of-3-4-mt-plastic-waste-generated-annually-report/articleshow/96918352.cms?from=mdr
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Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, Nagaland University, Lumami, Nagaland, and he can be contacted at email@example.com