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How India can face the tidal wave of marine plastic?


According to the Central Pollution Control Board’s (CPCB) Annual Report on Implementing the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, the plastic waste generated in 2018-19 was around 9,200 tonnes per day.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Pollution Control and Waste Management, Environmental Degradation)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. How do plastics reach water bodies?
  2. Impact of Plastic Pollution in the Marine environment
  3. Measures taken so far in India
  4. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)
  5. Way Forwards

How do plastics reach water bodies?

  • Mismanagement of plastic waste generated in coastal cities and urban centres are leading to this reaching the water bodies.
  • Land-based sources are the main cause (up to 80% of total marine debris) of marine plastic pollution.
  • The common leakage routes are litter accumulated and carried via open drains into rivers and water bodies.
  • Other upstream routes contributing to this cause include waste directly dumped into water bodies and waste from dump yards carried into local rivers or lakes.

Sources of Marine Plastic

  • The main sources of marine plastic are land-based, from urban and storm runoff, sewer overflows, beach visitors, inadequate waste disposal and management, industrial activities, construction and illegal dumping.
  • Ocean-based plastic originates mainly from the fishing industry, nautical activities and aquaculture.
  • Under the influence of solar UV radiation, wind, currents and other natural factors, plastic fragments into small particles, termed microplastics (particles smaller than 5 mm) or nanoplastics (particles smaller than 100 nm).
  • In addition, microbeads, a type of microplastic, are very tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic that are added as exfoliants in health and beauty products, such as cleansers and toothpastes. These tiny particles easily pass-through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean and lakes.

Impact of Plastic Pollution in the Marine environment

  • Plastic can take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose depending on the type of plastic and where it has been dumped.
  • The most visible and disturbing impacts of marine plastics are the ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of marine species.
  • Floating plastics also contribute to the spread of invasive marine organisms and bacteria, which disrupt ecosystems.
  • According to a forecast made in March 2020, the direct harm to the blue economy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be USD 2.1 billion per year.
  • Enormous social costs accompany these economic costs. Residents of coastal regions suffer from the harmful health impacts of plastic pollution and waste brought in by the tides.
  • Boats may become entangled in abandoned or discarded fishing nets or their engines may become blocked with plastic debris.

Measures taken so far in India

  • Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 state that every local body has to be responsible for setting up infrastructure for segregation, collection, processing, and disposal of plastic waste.
  • Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2018 introduced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
  • Ban on Single-Use Plastics in a bid to free India of single-use plastics by 2022.
  • World Environment Day, 2018 hosted in India, the world leaders vowed to “Beat Plastic Pollution” & eliminate its use completely.

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)

  • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India is a Statutory Organisation under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
  • It was established in 1970s under the Water (Prevention and Control of pollution) Act.
  • CPCB is the apex organisation in country in the field of pollution control.
  • It is also entrusted with the powers and functions under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
  • It serves as a field formation and also provides technical services to the Ministry of Environment and Forests under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
  • It Co-ordinates the activities of the State Pollution Control Boards by providing technical assistance and guidance and also resolves disputes among them.

Way Forwards

  • Identifying plastic items that can be replaced with non-plastic, recyclable, or biodegradable materials is the first step.
  • Plastics are inexpensive which provide fewer economic incentives to employ recycled plastics. Balancing price structure with environmental health should be a priority.
  • Developing tools and technology to assist governments in measuring and monitoring plastic garbage in cities.
  • All single-use goods can be replaced with reusable items or more sustainable single-use alternatives.
  • Existing international instruments should be further explored to address plastic pollution. The most important are:
    1. The 1972 Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and Other Matter (or the London Convention).
    2. The 1996 Protocol to the London Convention (the London Protocol).
    3. The 1978 Protocol to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).
  • Recycling and reuse of plastic materials are the most effective actions available to reduce the environmental impacts of open landfills and open-air burning that are often practiced to manage domestic waste.
  • Governments, research institutions and industries also need to work collaboratively redesigning products, and rethink their usage and disposal, in order to reduce microplastics waste from pellets, synthetic textiles and tyres.
  • Government ministries at the national and local levels must collaborate in the development, implementation and oversight of policies related to plastic waste management.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

December 2023