Discourage single use plastic and instead use jute/cloth carry bags, insists Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan

On a windy summer morning, a muster of peacocks, displaying colourful plumage like a flickering train, flip-flop atop huge green trees and scream at short intervals amid unfazed flocks of twittering birds at India’s Environment, Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan’s residence in the heart of the national capital.

Filing past the absorbing spectacle, a motley crowd of visitors, many of them holding handwritten petitions or bouquets gently enter a makeshift hall to meet the lawmaker who is a Member of Parliament from the moonlight crossing-Chandni Chowk-constituency in old Delhi.

Much before, the agile Minister, in tearing hurry to pack up his day-long tight schedule, makes an appearance and occupies a central chair – including some burqa-clad women from his constituency, his staff ensures trays of piping hot tea cups and coffee mugs were serving regularly. The staff introduces itself to the audience and layout drill for whistle-stop meetings with ENT specialist turned politician.

The moment, the medium height suave Minister enters the hall, commotion ensues but things settle down fast as professional photographers stand in attendance and race of selfie with Minister ends. He listens and assures for quick redressal of genuine and fair petitions. This is a frequent morning scene at his residence, may it be a sizzling summer or frigid winter. Retreating people stare at a hanging poster which reads –‘Democracy is not the governance by the majority, neither it’s of governance of the minority, but it is the governance of the common inspiration of general public’. The frame with party’s ideologue and leader Dr Deen Dayal Upadhyay picture hangs innocuously from a bright green bamboo stick partition.

Despite shoestring budget of time, the Minister spoke to InnoHEALTHMagazine. Said India’s resolve to protect the environment and ensure growth is non-negotiable and gave detailed answers to many queries including:

Q. It is not possible to do away with plastic altogether. How does the govt propose to reduce/ recycle plastic?

With the growing population of the world and the lifestyle adopted, the amount of garbage production; including plastic waste, is also increasing. However, the accumulation of these products is leading to the increased amount of plastic pollution around the world. The Government of India has notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. The rule inter-alia, regulate manufacture, sale, distribution and use of plastic carry bags including carrying bags of compostable plastic and plastic sheets for packaging or wrapping commodities. The use of carrying conventional plastic bags and less than 50 microns in thickness is prohibited. The use of plastic for packaging gutkha, tobacco and pan masala is prohibited. Based on the requirement and necessity, an individual state can take a decision on banning of the plastic bags. Therefore, use of carrying plastic bags is banned by seventeen States and three Union Territories.

Through the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, the generators of waste have been mandated to take steps to minimize generation of plastic waste, not to litter the plastic waste, ensure segregated storage of waste at source and handovers segregated waste to local body or agencies authorised by the local bodies. The rules have mandated the responsibilities of local bodies, gram panchayat, waste generators, retailers and street vendors to manage the plastic waste. The rules mandated the producers, importers and brand owners to work out modalities for waste collection system based on Extended Producer Responsibility.

Q. How 2017 was different in terms of air pollution in Delhi NCR?

Due to extensive efforts by all stakeholders, there has been an improvement in overall air quality in 2017. As per AQI data, the number of good, satisfactory and moderate days in 2017 was 151 as compared to 109 in 2016. The number of poor, very poor and severe days was down to 180 in 2017 as compared to 214 in 2016.

Q. What is your message for this World Environment Day to the global citizen?

As you are aware the theme of World Environment Day is “Plastic Pollution”. I would like to urge all people to adopt the sustainable lifestyle. India has a long history to Discourage Single-use plastic. Instead, use jute/cloth carry bags, insists Minister Harsh Vardhan and tradition of harmonious co-existence between man and nature. In addition, people should adopt these practices in their day-to-day life. Let’s discourage single-use plastic and instead we may use jute/cloth carry bags:

  • Use of biodegradable and other types of compostable utensils in place of plastic
  • bring a fork, knife and spoon from home.
  • Use of durable, foldable & an inexpensive reusable bag that can be carried around in car/ pocket/purse.
  • Discourage plastic bottles. Have glass, steel or clay bottles in offices.
  • Encourage employees to refuse, reduce and reuse plastic products in their daily use. Pledge for a plastic-free environment in the Organization.

Q. You have been talking about building a movement for Green Good Deeds. How can this movement help in reducing plastic pollution – the theme of this year’s World Environment Day?

Green Good Deeds is a people-oriented campaign to raise awareness about environmental concerns in a simplified way. Everyone is looking up to India with expectations because they think that Indians have the DNA to protect the environment. Our ancestors had made protection of environment an integral part of their lifestyle. The campaign aims to broaden its base with the involvement of teachers, students and other voluntary organisations. There are more than 500 green good deeds listed in the app (Dr Harsh Vardhan Mobile App).

The app includes– planting trees, saving energy, conserving water, use of public transport and promoting carpool, discourage plastic bottles, have glass, steel or clay bottles in offices, etc. Many of them are concerned with the use of environment-friendly consumables. It means for sure discouraging use of plastics and such materials. If we encourage few of green good deeds it automatically means enhancing the use of environmentally friendly products and services. Plastic is so deep-rooted, especially in urban India. If we discourage it and adopt some relevant green deeds it will certainly reduce adverse impact on the environment.

Also, we understand that the objective of transforming Green Good Deeds into a peoples’ movement. It can be best achieved by repeatedly bringing multidimensional initiatives and campaigns that can reach out to youth and children. World Environment Day celebrations 2018 could be a great platform which will definitely discourage the use and beat plastic pollution. ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ is the theme for this year.

World Environment Day has always been a day of special importance to India. The day has been celebrating as a rededication of national efforts for sustainable development and mainstreaming environmental concerns in the national developmental agenda. Plastic as it is may not be a problem, but littering and unsafe disposal of single-use plastic products, plastic bottles, food containers and packaging materials are causing concern to the environment.

In the age of advanced technology, we cannot live plastic free but we can manage our plastic waste disposal into circular economy and adopt good deeds and the time has come that we must realize the concern and make collective efforts to reduce our plastic footprint by way of adapting green good deeds and 4 R principle (refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle).

In India, not less than 25,490 tonnes of plastic is generating every day with mind-boggling 40% of plastic waste uncollected. He hopes there will be perceptible to and measurable difference in the country brought about the plastic pollution. About 60 million tonnes of solid waste is generating in one year. And plastic bottle takes between 450-1000 years to decompose”.

This year, India hosts the World Environment Day for the second time. MoEF& CC is hosting the World Environment Day 2018, in collaboration with UN Environment. India hosted the event in the year 2011, with the theme: ‘Forests: Nature at your Service’. Informatively, 5th June will be celebrating as the World Environment Day by the UN General Assembly to commemorate the opening of the Stockholm Conference on Human Development.

Annual celebrations of World Environment Day began in 1974. 5th June provides an occasion for responsible conduct by individuals, enterprises and communities in preserving and enhancing the environment. Every action counts, and when multiplied by people across the world, its impact becomes exponential. Over 150 countries are celebrating World Environment Day, particularly for promoting the environmental dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals.

During the last three years, the themes of World Environment Day celebrations included:

  • “Seven billion dreams, one planet, consume with care” in 2015 in Rome, Italy
  • “Zero tolerance for the illegal wildlife trade” in Luanda, Angola, in 2016 and
  • “Connecting people to nature – in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator” in Ottawa, Canada, in 2017.

He also mentioned writing to Environment Ministers of more than 150 countries to celebrate the day globally and take a pledge to cut the use of single-use plastics. More than 10,000 missed calls have been received in the “Missed Call Campaign” titled #BeatPlasticPollution. A pledge to beat plastic pollution can be taken by placing a missed call on 18001371999.

The objectives of the campaigns for the environment are to enhance the global visibility of India as a leader in sustainability actions. To support the efforts to Clean India ahead of Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary in October 2019, expand/consolidate public engagement on India’s environmental agenda, inculcate private sector leadership to address plastic pollution and urge citizens to take a pledge to change their behavior around waste management and highlight India’s leadership in the cause of marine litter and beach cleaning.

Q. ISFR 2017 reported an almost 1% increase in forest cover. At the same time trees are cut down indiscriminately. Are there any plans to stop the felling of trees?

As per the latest “India State of Forest Report 2017” published by Forest Survey of India, total forest and tree cover of the country is 8,02,088 square kilometres which are 24.39% of the total geographical area of the country. As per ISFR 2017, some States/UTs have shown the gain in forest cover while some have shown a loss. Overall, there is an increase of 8021 square kilometres in forest and tree cover of the country over that of the India State of Forest Report 2015 (updated) which is about 1% of the forest and tree cover of the country.

During the diversion of forest land for non-forestry purposes under the FC Act, falling of trees are cutting down out as required under the project. However, care is taking up to ensure that minimum trees are falling. As per the norms, compensatory afforestation is taking up against the diverted forest areas. Illicit felling also takes place sometimes in different parts of the country. These are dealt under Indian Forest Act and various State specific Acts and rules made thereunder.

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