Dr.Tasaduk Hussain Itoo
Plastic carry bags are generally for one-time use, with most of them ending up in the dustbins or landfills. In the absence of a proper waste disposal system, waste ends up being dumped in the open and in streams, drains and jhoras. Rural areas which are not serviced by waste vehicles have a major problem in the disposal of plastic bags. These bags clog drains and streams, sometimes leading to landslides, pollute farmlands; and are harmful to animals, thereby posing a great threat to the biodiversity and prestige nature of the environment in Jammu & Kashmir. Currently, the state does not have an efficient and environmentally safe system of waste disposal. In the capital cities, mixed household waste is collected on a daily basis by waste collectors and collection vehicles. These people or vehicles arrive at designated spots in the morning and either blow a whistle or ring a bell, signalling the residents to come out and deliver their waste to the waste collector or the waste vehicle. The mixed waste is taken to and dumped at the waste dumping sites located along the banks of rivers.
In J & K, only small fraction of the waste is recycled through the informal sector. Unlike other places, plastic bags are not being picked up by the informal sector and it finally ends up at the landfill, posing a serious hazard to both human health and the environment. While conditions in the cities are relatively better, towns and villages poorly serviced. Large quantities of plastic get openly burned. Plastics are also commonly used for starting the morning wood fires in villages. A lot of waste gets washed down the streams and rivers and enters the Jhelum, which is the largest river in J & K.In Jammu, lot of waste is being dumped at various sites along the banks of Tawi river, thus causing a mal-environment around.
Strict monitoring and application of the law: Strict monitoring is required for the ban to be effective. Random checks, spot fines and seizures of the plastic bags-these measures, on a regular basis, can act as a deterrent, especially for the small vendors. The penalty amount should be sizeable and could be raised on repeat offences, thereby discouraging usage.
Participatory approach: The regulatory agencies should invite different groups and assess their problems in the implementation of the ban. It is important to understand the user perspective and in this case it will be important to understand the resistance from the vendors. This will help in planning action as well as resolve the bottlenecks.
Alternatives to plastic bags: For the purpose of establishing sustainable practices, the true goal is to eliminate all single-use practices, whatever the use, whatever the material being used. Towards this end, practices that encourage multi-use materials, such as reusable bags made of cloth or other durable materials help decrease dependence on non-renewable resources, while contributing towards the overall zero waste goal. Serious efforts should be made to find sustainable and eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags. The following are some of the feasible alternatives:
Reusable bags: This is an alternative to single-use paper or plastic bags, which can be reused many times for shopping. These come in canvas, woven plastic fibre, hemp, cotton and even leather.
Biodegradable plastics: Bio-plastics or organic plastics are a form of plastic derived from renewable organic sources, such as vegetable oil, corn starch and pea starch. The basic characteristic of these plastics is that they are capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. The government can promote the alternatives through financial and other incentives. It is recommended that a detailed feasibility study on alternatives be carried out and the best types earmarked for mass production and distribution.
Check on inter-state movement: Though the production, sale and usage of plastic bags are banned in the two gross regions of the Union Territory, plastic bags continue to come in from other states where there is no ban. A stricter monitoring of this will be highly effective in curbing the usage.
Comprehensive waste management policy: The plastic bags ban should not exist in isolation. Instead, the ban should be part of a well thought out futuristic Solid Waste Management Policy that aims to substantially reduce and recycle plastics, while eliminating those types that cannot be recycled.
Awareness and education: The most effective strategy to reduce the use of plastic bags and plastic wastes is to bring about behavioural changes in people. Continuous use of promotional material such as posters and hoardings should be put in appropriate public places. Consumers should be encouraged and motivated to always carry their own reusable shopping bags. Civil society organisations should be engaged in curbing this menace.
Plastic pollution in J&K: An emerging menace
Dr.Tasaduk Hussain Itoo