Nearly 170 countries, including India, have agreed to prepare a draft text — called ‘zero draft’ — for an international treaty by November to end plastic pollution through multiple measures in a time-bound manner. The zero draft will have to take some tough calls to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution. The world generates approximately 400 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, 60% of which ends up in the natural environment or landfills, including the eight million tonnes that enter the oceans every year. Some 120 out of the 195 countries in the world have already instituted either a ban or a cess on plastic products to discourage their use. But the implementation of these laws is worse than patchy. Take India, for example. In July last year, the country banned 19 single-use plastic items like spoons, straws, plates and polythene bags that are less than 120 microns thick. Almost a year later, the Central Pollution Control Board has conceded that the ban — it only targeted 2-3% of the plastic waste generated — has been flouted with impunity. A limited ban will not impact the big players. The focus should be on moving away from the use-and-throw economy to one which is designed for reusable and sustainable packaging. The government claims that a large number of plastic units are making the switch to using packaging alternatives such as cotton, jute, paper and crop stubble waste. However, the alternatives sector does not produce at a scale that will enable businesses all over the country to make the environment-friendly transition. This is the sector that needs attention and policy incentives.
But all the plastic waste in India is not generated by the nation alone. More than 25 countries dumped 1,21,000 metric tonnes of plastic waste in India in 2019, even though the import of plastic waste is banned in India. This is true of other third-world countries. It is thus unfair of the United States of America and other European nations, which export anywhere between 5-20% of their plastic, to demand that the terms of the zero draft be decided through majority votes. India has rightly advocated for a consensus-based approach where poorer countries are not steamrolled into taking stringent measures to pay for the rampant consumerism of the first world. No country can afford to shirk its responsibility of reducing plastic waste any longer given that each person consumes a credit-card-sized amount of microplastics every week on an average.