Published: Wednesday 15 May 2002

In defence of plastics

We are gravely perturbed by the tone of the article 'Swamped' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 21, March 31), which portrays an incorrect picture of the plastics industry in India. It is true that the plastics industry is bound to double in the next five years or so. This augurs well for the plastics industry and the country's economy. The industry provides Rs 3,500 crore per annum to the government exchequer, and its export earning is over us $800 million. It provides direct employment to over 500,000 people, and over 150,000 are indirectly engaged with the industry.

As correctly pointed out by the author, environmental pollution due to plastic waste is a serious problem if not tackled immediately. However, statistics prove than over 45-60 per cent of plastic waste is recovered and recycled. The remaining 50 per cent constitutes long life plastic products and containers, such as auto parts, computer components etc. When eventually discarded, they are collected and taken into the recycling process without delay. A crucial factor, which has not been conveyed to your readers, is that the primary post consumer waste from plastic items are thin carry-bags and mineral water bottles that actually constitute only one to two per cent of the total plastics consumed in India.

While supporting the need for avoidance of indiscriminate use of plastics and waste littering, the Indian Centre for Plastics in the Environment (icpe) would like to point out that plastic has emerged as the most beneficial product in recent times, and it caters to almost every industry and consumer. It has emerged as the best wood substitute and conserver of precious energy sources and water. Any legislation on manufacture of plastics and their use, therefore, needs careful evaluation. Essentially, what is needed is an integrated approach to solid waste management.

Director General, icpe
New Delhi...

People protect

I fully endorse the views expressed in the editorial 'Better wild than never' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 19, February 28), especially regarding involvement of local communities in wildlife conservation. However, I would like to add the following: Let us first accept that just as degradation of forests reduces the wildlife population, regeneration of forests improves wildlife. The experiment of joint forest management (jfm) has proved successful in the regeneration of degraded forests all over the country. I have visited several villages in Andhra Pradesh, which practice jfm , and almost everywhere, people talk of improvement in the wildlife population and control on poaching.

Why does the government not learn from these experiences that involvement of the people is a better option than relocation of families from protected areas (pas)? Instead of forming eco-development committees, why not have jfm committees for the pas as well? The relocation and rehabilitation of families from the pas is not an easy task. An example of the difficulties inherent in such efforts is the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger project in Andhra Pradesh, where the relocated families returned to their village. Similarly, armed contingents can be of little help in forest areas infested with Naxalites. The safest course is to extend jfm to both forest and wildlife conservation.


Tax the troublemaker

You have taken up many issues on pollution, but I have not seen anyone take up the issue of pollution by paan masala pouches. These pouches are made of aluminium foil and plastic -- neither of which is biodegradable -- and literally swamp Indian roads. I am sure paper laminated packing can be used quite successfully to hold the flavour of the paan masala. It is even more worrying that a culture of such sachets seems to be catching on. One way of fighting this would be to have a punitive rate of excise duty for products with non-biodegradable packing!


Who needs roads?

The Indian and Uttar Pradesh governments had issued half-page advertisements in a number of leading English and Hindi language dailies congratulating the people of Uttar Pradesh on the strengthening of 478 kms of national highway two (nh2) and the Lucknow Bypass under the national highways development project. While this bodes well for transportation, it needs to be pointed out that such projects damage the environment beyond repair. In this project, it is estimated that over two lakh trees would be uprooted and destroyed. Besides, a very large area of agricultural land would be taken over by the road. It needs to be asked what good faster transportation and better roads will do in a land where commuters waste hours at the toll tax bridges on these roads.

New Delhi...

Breathe easy

'India exposed' (Down To Earth, Vol 10, No 22, April 15) is a report on the sad state of urban air quality. When I was in Austria a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to read a public notice, which stated that the local magistrate had the right to shut down traffic when the ambient air quality is below a certain acceptable standard. In our country, the state pollution control boards have failed miserably to monitor the air quality in cities under their control. Moreover, they are mere paper tigers, with little power to act.

A few actions we can take to improve urban air quality are:

Monitor air quality at peak hours at busy intersections. If it goes up dangerously, the traffic police should alert the authorities, who may decide to stop/divert traffic.

All polluting vehicles should be banned from the roads. The fine for not complying with pollution limits should be enhanced to Rs 5,000 so that vehicle owners remember to have their vehicles checked/maintained properly.

Slowly, but surely, the public transport in any city should run on cng (compressed natural gas) or ultra low sulphur diesel.

Electric autorickshaws and cars should receive a higher subsidy.

Alternate non-polluting fuels such as gasohol, methanol and hydrogen need to be developed.

As far as possible, vehicle-free pedestrian plazas should be created, so that people can walk and shop in peace.

The onus of recycling/reconditioning vehicles older than 15 years should be with the manufacturers.

The states and the Centre should draw up plans to enhance mass transport so that there is enough incentive for private vehicle owners to leave their vehicles at home.


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