As Pune struggles with its burgeoning garbage problem, the consistent increase in the amount of plastic waste is making the situation tougher. In Pune, the total solid waste generation is about 1,500 to 1,600 tonnes per day (TPD), of which 15 to 17 per cent is plastic waste that amounts to approximately 215 to 235 TPD.
However, only 20 to 25 per cent plastic waste is recycled, while the remaining 60 to 70 per cent either remains in the landfills or ends up in the city’s water bodies. Experts and individuals who have been working towards addressing the garbage problem in the city feel that the society, as well as civic bodies, are collectively responsible for ignoring the issue.
Nilesh Inamdar, plastic technologist and director of Patpert, a city-based firm which offers plastic waste treatment solutions to various companies throughout the country, said that the very advantage of using plastic — its non-degradable nature — becomes a disadvantage when it is discarded.
“There’s no harm in using plastic as long as the used plastic is recycled and not dumped in the environment. Our experience says that some plastic, such as plastic bottles, are being recycled. However, low-value plastic like wrappers and polythene bags get mixed with garbage. Ragpickers don’t pick them up as they don’t get any money. This plastic chokes drains, destroys river bodies and its eco-system.
On the other hand, many animals such as cows and buffaloes end up eating plastic, fall sick and sometimes die,” said Inamdar.
Solid waste management expert Lalit Rathi said solid waste like plastic, if segregated and later reused or recycled, is no more a waste item. The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, specifies that “the municipal authority shall be responsible for the setting up, operationalisation and coordination of the waste management system and for performing associated functions… to ensure safe collection, storage, segregation, transportation, processing and disposal of plastic waste, to ensure that no damage is caused to the environment during this process, to ensure setting up of collection centres for plastic waste involving manufacturers, to ensure its channelisation to recyclers, to create awareness among all stakeholders about their responsibilities, to engage agencies or groups working in waste management including waste pickers, and to ensure that open burning of plastic waste is not permitted.”
However, those working in the field claim that none of the rules are being followed. Lokesh Bapat, whose organisation Tellus Org has been working towards raising awareness about plastic pollution and its effects on the environment, pointed out, “Neither the society nor the PMC have a proper segregation system. If we observe the condition of garbage bins in the city, one can see that almost 60 to 65 per cent of waste is plastic, including carry bags, shopping bags, wrappers, plastic cups, water bottles, aluminum foils etc.”
Vinod Bodhankar, president of Jalbiradari and joint director, Sagarmitra Abhiyaan, said, “Plastic is a major pollutant and every family is its source. Changing ‘plastic-throwing’ habit to ‘plastic collection’ habit is the key to a plastic-free smart city. To achieve this, we need to reduce, reuse, recover and recycle plastic.”
In the last four years, under the Sagarmitra Abhiyaan, 50 tonnes of domestic plastic waste was recollected and recycled by 1.2 lakh students from 120 schools in Pune.
According to Bapat, the solution to the problem is to ban plastic items such as carry bags, shopping bags, cups, dishes, wrappers etc. The alternatives to these items, made of ceramic, clay, stainless steel, paper, jute, are already available in the market.“The ideal solution would be to segregate plastic from other waste at the source itself and not after it reaches garbage bins,” stressed Inamdar.