Firm resolve to tackle plastic menace inevitable

THE mounting garbage crisis in Imphal testifies that the government is literally moving the waste matter from point A to point B and wishing the problem will simply go away. Regardless of a government circular issued in August 2017 that import and sale of plastic items, including carry bags which are less than 50 micron in thickness, will invite monetary fine and repeated offenders be jailed, the on-going drives to seize plastic carry-bags as well as the latest announcement of more stringent penalties; this time by the Manipur Pollution Control Board, gives the impression that there has been no notable achievement in solving the plastic problem. Last year an order issued by the deputy secretary of forests and environment had given more teeth to the law enforcement agents and entrusted them to shoulder the responsibility of reducing the threat posed to the public health by plastic wastes and check environmental pollution. However, in the absence of firm crackdown and adequate scientific recycling or disposal facilities, the bulk of plastic bags continues end up either in landfills, where they tend to last practically forever, or on city roads, where they pose a traffic hazard, and in drains, where they end up clogging sewage systems. As the orders specified punishment against those found violating the directive expectation was high that such move would make the traders and the users think twice before breaking the law, but in reality the orders could not bring any change as yet. The main argument of plastic traders is that there is no equally inexpensive and convenient alternative. Though it is factually correct, such an argument is basically based on private costing rather than the social cost of plastic bags. It is an established fact that the social and environmental costs of using plastic bags far outweigh the very obvious private benefit.

Regardless of the traders’ reluctance to pay heed to the environmental concerns, the government should not relent for the public would not mind to look for ecologically acceptable alternatives if at all manufacture of plastic bags is effectively prohibited and the ban on their use constantly policed. However, drives being conducted in the market place against use/sale of plastic carry-bags; mostly evident in the run-up to the annual observance of World Environment Day and few weeks after the global event, indicates that nothing concrete had been done to dispose of garbage in a scientific and responsible way as is done in cities across the world. For instance, Norwegian capital Oslo is learnt to be generating power from garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals — to heat almost half of the city and most of its schools. Interestingly, Oslo, like most of northern Europe faces shortage of garbage and is looking to import it from other places. There are also reports that the practice of burning garbage to generate heat and electricity has been expanding rapidly across the world, and as such the government of Manipur may also look into these technologies and find a permanent solution to the recurring garbage crisis. This system, if followed, will also generate the much-needed electricity. Pending acquisition of such productive technology, authorities concerned here need to ensure that the ban on plastic bags is effectively implemented instead of announcing new plastic management policies in fresh packages. The government should impose tax on the use of plastic bags and raise the revenue. If necessary, the price of cloth bags can be subsidised from the revenues generated through plastic bag tax. This will make citizens either reuse plastic bags or buy cloth bags. In case the government remains firm in tackling the plastic menace, the citizens too will ultimately fall in line, notwithstanding some initial inconveniences they might face in giving up their long infatuated habits of easy living and ‘devil may care’ attitude and consequently learn to respect the environment or teach the next generation the ways to conserve it.

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