Mountains of Plastic Are Choking the Himalayan States

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Why in News?

  • Plastic pollution has become an alarming global issue, transcending geographical boundaries, and infiltrating even the remotest corners of the planet.
  • The Indian Himalayan Region, known for its pristine landscapes and vital water sources, is not immune to this crisis.
  • Therefore, it becomes imperative to explore the extent of plastic pollution in the Indian Himalayan Region, its impact on the environment, and the inadequacies in current waste management systems.

An Analysis of Presence of Plastic in the Indian Himalayan Region and Its Implications

  • Microplastics in the Himalayas: A Silent Menace to Pristine Glacial Ecosystems
    • The minute particles known as microplastics, a byproduct of larger plastic degradation, are silently infiltrating the Himalayan mountains.
    • Lying within glacial deposits, these microplastics pose a significant threat as they are released into rivers during the melting season.
    • This not only contaminates crucial water sources but also jeopardises downstream communities, showing the interconnected impact of plastic pollution on the region's pristine glacial ecosystems.
  • Plastic Invasion on Water Sources: Threatening Subcontinent's Lifelines
    • The Indian Himalayan Region, renowned for its role as a vital water source, is facing a severe plastic invasion.
    • Major river systems like the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra are contaminated by unscientific plastic disposal, leading to soil and water pollution.
    • The repercussions extend beyond environmental damage, impacting the region's rich biodiversity.
    • The toxic components of plastic leaching into the ecosystem disrupt the delicate balance, posing a threat to terrestrial and aquatic species alike.
  • Urbanisation, Tourism, and Plastic Crisis: A Looming Environmental Catastrophe
    • Rapid and unplanned urbanisation, coupled with changing production and consumption patterns, contributes significantly to the mounting plastic waste crisis in the Indian Himalayan Region.
    • The surge in tourist footfalls exacerbates the issue, turning once-pristine landscapes into dumping grounds for non-biodegradable materials.
    • The recent report by the SDC Foundation Dehradun underscores the urgency for intervention, shedding light on towns in Uttarakhand drowning in plastic waste due to unregulated disposal practices.
  • Beyond Visual Pollution: Environmental Impact and Biodiversity Loss
    • Plastic pollution poses a direct threat to the region's rich biodiversity as it infiltrates the diverse ecosystems.
    • The accumulation of plastic waste in rivers and lakes alters water quality, creating a toxic environment that aquatic organisms struggle to endure.
    • From fish to amphibians, the entire aquatic food chain is jeopardised, affecting not only the survival of these species but also the livelihoods of communities dependent on them for sustenance.
    • On land, the impact is equally profound, as plastic waste litters the landscape, it disrupts the habitats of various flora and fauna.
    • The physical presence of plastic items can obstruct natural pathways for wildlife, leading to displacement and potential conflict between animals and human settlements.

Challenges in the Battle Against Plastic Pollution in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR)

  • Legal Challenges and Eco-sensitive Areas: The National Green Tribunal's Intervention
    • The National Green Tribunal's issuance of notices to various authorities reveals the legal challenges in waste dumping in eco-sensitive areas.
    • Tourists and commercial establishments often contribute to this problem, prompting legal scrutiny.
    • The quantum jump in tourist footfalls strains the region's already fragile waste management systems.
    • This legal intervention highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to regulate waste disposal practices to preserve the fragile ecosystem of the IHR.
  • Beyond Recyclability: The Microplastic Predicament Unveiled by Himalayan Clean-up Initiatives
    • Himalayan Clean-up initiatives conducted by organisations like Integrated Mountain Initiative and the National Productivity Council reveals alarming statistics.
    • The high percentage of non-recyclable plastic waste in the region poses a unique challenge.
    • The waste audit results emphasise the pressing need for effective waste management strategies that go beyond mere recycling, considering the peculiarities of the Himalayan region's waste composition.

An Analysis of Contradiction between Regulatory Expectations and Actual Practices

  • Plastic Overshoot Day 2023
    • The concept of Plastic Overshoot Day,when plastic waste surpasses waste management capabilities, serves as a stark reality check.
    • Despite claims of systemic ability to handle plastic waste, India reached its Plastic Overshoot Day in 2023 on January 6.
    • The discrepancies between waste management capabilities and the mismanaged waste index raise questions about the effectiveness of current waste management systems, demanding urgent attention and reform.
  • National Regulatory Framework
    • The Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM) 2016, Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules 2016, and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) 2022 collectively constitute the regulatory backbone for managing plastic waste in India.
    • However, their application in the Himalayan context has its challenges.
    • While the SWM recognises the special needs of hill areas, the PWM and EPR often overlook these unique requirements when creating mandates for both local bodies and producers, importers, and brand owners (PIBOs).
    • The lack of customisation to the distinct characteristics of the Himalayan region hinders the efficacy of these regulations.
  • Local Initiatives and Legislative Measures
    • States across the IHR have taken commendable steps to address the plastic menace.Himachal Pradesh, for instance, implemented a buy-back policy for non-recyclable and single-use plastic waste in 2019.
    • While these initiatives demonstrate a regional commitment to tackling the plastic problem, the tangible results are yet to be fully realised.
    • Because legislative measures have not prevented widespread littering of plastic waste, emphasising the gap between policy and on-the-groundimplementation.
    • For example, the collective mandate of SWM/PWM/EPR emphasises waste segregation at source as a prerequisite for effective waste management. However, the ground reality reveals a stark contrast.

Way Forward

  • Plugging Data Gaps
    • The first step towards effective waste management in the IHR is to address the prevailing data gaps.
    • Understanding the quantum and quality of waste generated in the states within the region is essential for crafting tailored solutions.
  • Resource Allocation Considerations
    • Appropriate resource allocation is crucial for managing the plastic pollution crisis in the IHR.
    • This allocation should be considerate of the rich biodiversity, ecological sensitivity, and the unique challenges posed by the mountainous terrain.
    • Traditional waste management approaches may not suffice, necessitating innovative solutions tailored to the topographical constraints of the mountains.

Conclusion

  • The plastic pollution crisis in the Indian Himalayan Region demands urgent attention and comprehensive action.
  • Balancing environmental conservation, regulatory frameworks, and community involvement is essential to curb the growing menace of plastic waste.
  • The time has come for a collective effort to transform the region into a plastic-free haven.

Q1) What are some challenges faced by India in Solid Waste Management?

India faces significant challenges in solid waste management, including a lack of infrastructure leading to open dumping and burning, the strain on existing systems due to rapid urbanisation, inefficient waste segregation, limited recycling facilities, and issues within the informal waste sector.

Q2) What are some initiatives taken by India in solid waste management?

India has implemented various initiatives. The Swachh Bharat Mission, launched in 2014, promotes cleanliness and waste management practices nationwide. Waste-to-energy projects aim to convert non-recyclable waste into energy, reducing landfill dependence. Stricter Plastic Waste Management Rules address plastic pollution, while Extended Producer Responsibility holds manufacturers accountable for environmentally sound product disposal. Additionally, the Smart Cities Mission integrates technology for optimised waste management. These efforts collectively strive to improve solid waste management practices in India.


Source: The Hindu