The problem is more than plastic; it’s us!

The problem is more than plastic; it’s us!

Imlisanen Jamir

There was a meme doing the rounds sometime last year stating that it isn’t a Naga home if there is no one drawer solely dedicated to storing plastic bags.

Our love for this irresistible wonder material is all consuming, considering how versatile and light weight it is. We share a paradoxical relationship with it; to our detriment.

With the World Environment Day round the corner, campaigns will be redoubled to sway people from using plastic. Already there have been commendable efforts ranging from districts and villages banning single use plastics to the much talked about Himalayan Cleanup and the ambitious Clean Dzüvürü initiative on the horizon.

Here’s hoping that all these initiatives taken up by both the government and private bodies tackle all issues to do with plastic waste. From market regulations to changing people’s mindsets, failure to address any facet of the issue will be a detriment to the desired end. Further, solely demonizing the material also does no good.

The enormity of the plastic waste pollution was recently revealed in the final report of The Himalayan Cleanup initiative in Nagaland. The exercised found that of the 23,102 Kgs of waste, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles were the highest polluters, followed by multi layered plastics, and single use plastics.

Such is the scenario that consumers cannot avoid plastics even if they try. The vogue for zero-waste grocery stores, where customers bring their own containers and weigh out what they want, is likely to remain a niche one. Consumers are an important part of the story, but a relatively small one.

Government action will be required to push a resistant industry into the changes needed. Most plastic is recyclable; but less than a 10th of that produced is actually recycled. Options like deposit return schemes for drinks containers or incentives for businesses that meet recycling targets can be mooted. But even that is not enough unless we design items with their end already in mind.

Governments and communities need to imagine a new plastics economy, where the materials do not end up as waste. That means wider use of reusable packaging, a radical increase in recycling and greater adoption of industrially compostable plastic packaging. The real problem is not plastic: it’s us. We need not reject the wonder material, but instead regain our sense of wonder, learning to treat it as a treasure instead of trash.

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