Plastic pollutes holy river of India and the sea



India’s capacity of disposing solid waste needs to be urgently enhanced. Plastic wastes in particular end up in the rivers, which are polluting the world’s ocean.

Researchers at The Ocean Cleanup – a Dutch foundation – in a recent report has said that plastic pollution is affecting the marine life in the ocean and the Asian rivers are primarily responsible for it.

According to the report, an estimated 1.15-2.41 million tonnes of plastic reaches the sea every year, an amount that needs between 48,000 to over 100,000 trucks to clear it.

India’s holy river Ganges is one of the biggest contributors to this marine pollution. Ganges dumps 1,200,000 tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean. One of the major reasons for this is the lack of a proper solid waste management system in India.

Rajesh Jaiswal, an environmental activist who has been working for the clean-up of the Ganges for about 25 years, laments: "Nowadays, everything is packaged in plastic-liquid or solid which end up in the landfill sites. From here they find their ways into the water-bodies. We don’t have a solid waste management system and that’s the biggest culprit of pollution in the rivers."

The situation has worsened in the last decade as the use of plastic has almost doubled in India. Since it is available cheap, people use it for all purposes as it is convenient.

"The harm of plastic has been under-emphasized. In India where plastic is cheaply available we use it for everything. Even though we have a culture of reuse you still see single plastic and that’s adding up to the problem," said Rajat Rai Handa, who works in the area of waste management and sustainability.

Apart from the industrial affluent and the pollutants, plastics are playing havoc in two big rivers – the Ganges and Yamuna.

"Within plastics there are sections. Some plastics are worse than others. Poly bags for example go down in the ocean easily as they are light-weight and when dumped, they are blown with the wind into the water bodies. Once they reach the ocean they accumulate. They block sunlight from reaching those parts of the ocean and this is detrimental to marine life," Handa added.

The municipalities in the country are responsible for the waste management but they look at it as an expenditure. They have to deploy manpower and transportation for managing the solid waste. They need to change their approach and look at waste as a resource.

Ashish Jain, the director of Indian Pollution Control Association, says, "If we talk about municipality then the major challenge is the funds because there is restricted fund and they have great responsibility in maintaining civic amenities. Waste management is just one of them and it is not revenue based. Waste management is an expensive process. If they start taking waste management as a revenue-based project the scenario will change. If they start taking collection fees, they can earn a huge amount of revenue. If they start segregation, they will get huge revenue from the recycling industry. If they start generating electricity, biogas they will get huge revenue."

Presently in India, solid waste is nobody's baby and is considered as a liability. The use of manpower, transportation and suitable land for disposal are an expense without any revenue generation. Until this negative approach is changed, solid waste will be the main cause for nuisance to the environment. The way forward is to consider waste as a resource and not as waste.