Plastic, a cheap, versatile, lightweight, and resistant material with near infinite applications, and one of the most important discoveries made in the process of scientific evolution, has become the vessel of earth’s destruction today. Britain’s Royal Statistical Society in its recent report (December 2018) revealed the fact that only 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled. This concludes the Medusa’s dream with a gargantuan issue of whopping 91% plastic waste deteriorating the environment.

The mass production of plastic in the last 7 decades has resulted in the creation of over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, most of which don’t enter the recycling process. If the situation is not controlled in time then by 2050, there will be nearly 12 billion metric tons of plastic in the world; oceans will have more plastic waste than fish. The incineration, accumulation, and disposal of plastic waste in unethical and environmental hazardous manner need to be countered in time. Today, the world is in desperate need of a clarion call to tackle the burning issues of plastic waste for human sustenance in the future.

This has become the collective responsibility of economies across the globe to take strong initiatives and frame policies to control and manage the plastic waste. While the whirlwind of industry 4.0 is storming through the modern world, the modern world cities need to find multifaceted solutions to burgeon plastic waste issues. The 5 ways that can enable cities to tackle the issues are as following:

Policy re-structuring and law enforcement

The United Kingdom government has introduced policies for plastic-free aisles in supermarkets, reduction in usage of plastic bottles through deposit return schemes and facilitation of fresh water fountains, a mandate for coffee cup manufacturers to opt for recyclable options and so on. Indian government inspired from such thoughtful initiatives started re-structuring waste management policies. Following the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign initiated by the Indian PM, the government has initiated the process of a strict ban on single-use plastics across the nation. Despite being termed as one of the world’s toughest anti-plastic laws, the decision of the Indian government is facing doubts whether it will become successful or just one other futile attempt.

As the words of environment minister go – “to eliminate all single-use plastics from our beautiful country by 2022”, learning from the earlier experiences, the government is confined to tie loose knots this time and implement the policies religiously. Not just administration but the society at whole also needs to be stirred and awakened through different means of communication, so a collective effort can result in better policy enforcement. Mumbai put a complete effective ban on single-use plastics in June 2018 and similar changes will be observed across the nation in coming years to curb the plastic problem.

Community initiatives for grassroots management

China succeeded in recycling over 25% of the plastic waste, despite being one of the largest producers of resin, polyester polyamide, and acrylic fibers. This shows that success lies in the grassroots management performed by the government and communities play a crucial role in the micro-management of resources, both man-made and natural. That’s why; the real solution of tackling plastic waste management should follow a bottom-up approach starting with households and individual level.

Motivating people for community cleanliness, safe waste disposal, and living in an environmentally friendly manner can hugely impact the plastic waste management at a global level. In fact, international organizations like the World Bank and IFAD are also working with SHGs across geographies to sensitize people for micro-management of waste. The inclusion of the education system into the community awareness model can also bring drastic changes in the process of collecting, recycling, and managing plastic waste.

The inclusion of the informal sector

Most of the developing and under-developed economies rely on the informal sector for waste collection, management, and disposal. India, one of the fastest developing nations, also greatly depends on the informal sector where over 95% of the waste management is handled by the unorganized sector including ragpickers, scrap dealers, and waste collectors. The need of the hour for large cities and metros is to streamline this informal sector and turn them into the epicenter of a large organized plastic waste management system.

The integrated recycling chain created in partnership with informal workers has gained success in Mexico and California already in reducing the plastic waste. The infusion of unorganized workers into the system will not only help in completing the herculean task of plastic waste management but will also generate steady employment for the informal workers helping in their social upliftment. Corporates, companies, metro municipalities and administration need to step forward and create such sustainable solutions.

Implementation of waste management systems

For a long time, the Indian government hasn’t succeeded in creating efficient waste management across the nation. A major reason for that lies in the improper implementation of waste management systems. Better holistic plastic waste management through efficient and timely collection process, division of areas into supervision zones, deployment of effective machinery, and creation of sustainable disposal infrastructure can overturn the scenario. Most of the European nations have succeeded in implementing holistic waste management systems and have been able to recycle nearly 30% of plastic waste. Adopting the Circular Economy Model in growing cities where Production, Consumption, and Re-use are justified in sync is the best plausible model for waste management.

Industry taking responsibility at the forefront

Empowering every individual from citizens to manufacturers and governments to take actions for plastic management can overturn the persisting plastic waste issues the world is currently facing. A recent conference on ‘Plastic Pollution and Management’ hosted by EU (European Union) emphasized making a new, smart, innovative, sustainable plastics industry by 2030. Manufacturers in particular need to take the lead for collecting and recycling plastic waste and help in strengthening the circular economy model. Industry can employ informal sector for the collection and can also generate monetary benefits from the recycled products. The inclusion of such process will not just help cities in curbing the waste but will also result in the rise of the economic strata.

(Raj Kumar is CEO, Deshwal Waste Management Pvt Ltd)