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Plastic waste a ticking time bomb in India: Supreme Court

Apr 04, 2013

The Supreme Court of India passed a directive asking for major cities to look into their plastic menace calling the problem a ticking time bomb in India.

Plastic mound

Piles of plastic in myriad forms lying by the roads, in the sewer, and in city dumps is a common sight in India. But the Supreme Court of India has reprimanded big cities for their poor waste management. The Supreme Court said: "We are sitting on a plastic time bomb," responding to information given by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) that India generates 56 lakh tonnes of plastic waste annually, with Delhi accounting for a staggering 689.50 tonnes a day.

The metro cities are major culprits with Delhi producing 690 tonnes a day, Chennai 429 tonnes, Kolkata 426 tonnes and Mumbai producing 408 tonnes. The CPCB told the court that the “total plastic waste which is collected and recycled in the country is estimated to be 9,205 tonnes per day (approximately 60 per cent of total plastic waste) and 6,137 tonnes remain uncollected and littered." It said a survey conducted in 60 major cities found that 15,342.46 tonnes of plastic waste was generated every day, amounting to 56 lakh tonnes a year.

Justices GS Singhvi and Kurian Joseph talked about the "failure of governance at the grassroots level" due to which policies are not implemented. In March 2011, under the orders of another Supreme Court directive, plastic pouches that used to sell gutka etc. were banned. Similarly, despite the Plastic Management and Disposal Rules being passed in 2009, there was been no enforcement yet.

After reviewing the situation, the Bench directed the commissioners of civic bodies in the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Agra, Faridabad and Jaipur to file affidavits within four weeks detailing steps taken under the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 and the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 to dispose of the waste responsibly.

Ravi Agarwal of Toxics Links, an Indian NGO that has been working on various kinds of waste management gives the example of Europe for effectively tackling plastic. “In Europe, it is mandatory for the industry to collect the plastic, but not so here. Europe also has a packaging law that has been thwarted by the powerful industry lobby in India.” He adds that the case has been going on for 15 years despite clear rules that the municipal corporations and the industry will collect plastic waste, it has not happened. Agarwal adds: “There is severe resistance from the industry which has made it into a consumer issue and leaves the sorting of plastic to the informal sector.”

Despite such a morbid picture, there are positives aspects to the fight against plastic. With last year’s ban on plastic bags being passed in the Indian capital, many shopkeepers have stopped keeping bags which has persuaded many people to carry their own cloth bags. The Delhi government has kept severe penalties for violation of the law with fines of up to Rs 1,00,000 or five years in jail. Many entrepreneurs like the Delhi-based Conserve recycle waste plastic to make bags and other items. For the moment, the plastic menace is not over with the ordinary citizen and the NGOs left handling the toxic mounds of plastic everywhere.

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