India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the 14th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on Monday. During opening remarks, Modi declared the “time has come” for “the world to say goodbye” to single-use plastic, calling on world leaders to follow India’s lead in banning the plastic.
“My Government has announced that India will put an end to single-use plastic in the coming years,” Modi said.
As India gears up to take over the presidency of the CoP, the prime minister said the country “looks forward to making an effective contribution.”
During an Independence Day speech given on August 15, Modi urged citizens and government agencies to “take the first big step” in freeing India of single-use plastics. The prime minister, who is leading efforts to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022, announced a ban on six items on October 2 of this year, the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.
Those six items include plastic bags, straws, cups, plates, small bottles, and some sachets.
“The ban will be comprehensive and will cover manufacturing, usage and import of such items,” an anonymous official said.
The sweeping ban is expected to cut India’s annual consumption of plastic by five percent. The country’s current consumption is estimated to be about 14 million tonnes—over 30 billion pounds.
Modi’s announcement—and his urging of world leaders to heed India’s example—comes at a time where worldwide concern about plastic pollution is growing rapidly.
India, a country that has been plagued by a trash epidemic for years, is suffering under the unsightly and potentially toxic weight of single-use plastic. According to the Economic Times, the problem is an “all-too familiar sight: an unofficial landfill spread out over an acre and rising several metres high, its base strewn with recently-discarded plastic cups, polybags, wrappers, packaging material and other detritus of our daily lives. This plastic pile, like other similar piles lying by our roadsides or accumulating in empty lots or choking up water bodies.”
Not only are single-use and other plastics ending up in large unsightly piles, just this week a new study published in Science of The Total Environment says plastic is now taking the form and shape of pebbles that look exactly like the real thing. Earlier this year, Gregory Wetherbee, a US Geological Survey researcher, found multicolored microscopic plastic fibers in rainwater. These discoveries come after the near constant stream of disturbing headlines detailing marine animals and birds found dead tangled in plastic waste or with stomachs full of a host of plastic debris.
The prime minister also discussed India’s attempts at combating land desertification by addressing issues of forest coverage and water scarcity, saying:
“Between 2015 and 2017, India’s tree and forest cover increased by 0.8 million hectares. When we address degraded lands, we also address water scarcity. We have created ‘Jal Shakti Ministry’ to address important water-related issues.”
But according to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, there is no upcoming ban on single-use plastic expected in India, as reported by Hindu Times.
At a Monday press conference Javadekar clarified that the prime minister did not say “ban” but rather said “goodbye” to single-use plastic, adding that starting on October 2, India “will begin an attempt to collect all that waste. Nearly 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste remains uncollected.”
Several of India’s states already have laws dealing with single-use plastic on the books but, according to Hindu Times, they aren’t enforced due, in part, to the costs for collecting and recycling plastic waste.
However, Former Environment Minister and current Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, said on World Environment Day last year:
“We make a solemn pledge that by 2022, we shall eliminate all single-use plastic from our beautiful country. Our beloved Prime Minister Shri Modi ji has envisioned a new India by 2022—an India of our dreams which shall be clean, poverty-free, corruption-free, terrorism-free, casteism-free … and most of all … which will be a global superpower. This India of our dreams shall also be single-use plastic free.”
India argued for a resolution at the United Nations Environment Assembly in March to phase-out single-use plastic worldwide by 2025. Environmental groups accused the US of blocking this and other ambitious global goals at the conference in Kenya, resulting in a final statement including the far less concrete phrasing of “significantly reducing single-use plastic by 2030.”