Zero Waste Week – North Eastern India

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For Zero Waste in North India, please click here.

North Eastern  region is the geographic gateway for much of India’s variety of the living organisms, and constituting rich variation in the flora and fauna and as a consequence the region identified as Indo-Burma hotspot that is one of the 35 Global biodiversity hotspots recognized . The eight states of Northeast India abode several endemic flora and fauna. Besides, the region has wide range of physiographic, cultural and economic diversity with certain inter and intra-state peculiarities. The region show wide topographical variations that vary from the flood plains of Assam to highest mountain peaks of Khanchanzonga (8586 m) in Sikkim

Assam is considered as the gate way of North East. Since time immemorial, people of Assam sustain their life by their own produce. They produce their own food, rear livestock for their protein source to compost. But globalization has changed the scenario. The present pattern of human activity has challenged all the living forms on the earth. People used to depend on packaged food to save time or due to hectic schedule in daily life. The electronic media plays an important role to induce these exotic food to the people of Assam. People become more aware about their conveniences even compromising their ecosystem. One of the modern conveniences without which daily life of man cannot be imagined is plastic bags. These cheap, light weighted bags function as a means of carrying food and other goods. The world consumes 1 million plastic shopping bags every minute and India’s plastics consumption is one of the highest in the world. However, the penetration level of plastic/polymer products in the region is much less as compared to the national levels, mainly due to lack of a matured processing sector. Besides, the industry sector, which is universally the major user of polymer products, is quite insignificant in this region. But the pollution is at alarming level. Nobody bother about impact of plastic pollution on mother earth, nobody tried to recycle it and  havoc is more in urban areas compared to rural areas. So being a civilized human being we have a moral responsibility to save the mother earth for our future generation.  Therefore, we from Assam, India  also want to be a part of Zero Waste campaign which is spreading a message “Zero Waste” throughout the world since 2008. Through this worldwide campaign, we got a chance to spread a message to create an awareness on plastic free sustainable  ecosystem.

The threat to environment and quality of life has been seen  in many urban areas like Guwahati city, the capital of Assam due to accumulation of single use plastic bag waste. They are environmental unfriendly to its extreme level. The usage of plastic bags and further ‘throw away culture’ have resulted in finding their ways into the city drainage system, clogging the drains leading to sanitation problems, sewage problems which ultimately cause severe flash flood in the city . Plastic bags  clog the drainage  system  and thus hit the  sewage systems. Choked and blocked drains causes the artificial  floods by a small splash of rain in the city as clogged drain prevent rain water to drain out of the city.

By clogging sewer pipes, plastic grocery bags and Styrofoam  which is used specially as packing materials to carry fish from other parts of the country ,  create stagnant water; and leads to the  ideal habitat for mosquitoes and other parasites  which causes diseases like encephalitis and dengue fever, but most notably malaria.

Due to indiscriminate dumping of plastic bags on land, toxic metals such as lead and cadmium pigments percolate into underground water. Garbage mixed with plastic bags interferes in waste processing facilities and causes problems in landfill operations.

A study conducted in Guwahati, the capital of the state,  reveals that people are using plastic bags as it is  Cheap,  Light in weight,  Easily available and   Lack of alternative bags.  The purpose of the use of plastic bags are – Day to day shopping , Storing of food items and  throw garbage. The survey has shown that people  are less aware about the techniques of disposing polythene bags. They follow the unscientific methods like open dumping, Burying, Burning, Throw away in the backyard, Throw in drain, Dustbin/public garbage bin etc.

In urban areas people used to abandoned unproductive cattle and many a time, milk-giving cows are abandoned too. The only food the cow gets to eat in the city is from garbage bins and apparently most of the time humans tend to throw their waste in knotted plastic bags and unable to open the bag, animals eat the entire packet, which leads them to eating plastic. Other animals like goat are also affected by waste from garbage bin. Styrofoam poisoning is seen in many domesticated birds like chickens , ducks,  swans, pigeons etc. The white colour and  texture of the deadly plastic attracts and delude these birds as their feed.

Endangered stark stork locally called Hargila  found  in Assam is also in great threat or in great danger as their habitat area mostly wetland seems dumped with city’s entire garbage by the municipality board. So the rare endangered birds has accounted many deaths till date due to the disturbing habitat and intake of plastic bags mixed with organic matters.

Rural Assam considered as the most virgin place with green vegetation and enchanting scenic beauty. But with the time it is not as same as it was in decade back. People in rural areas are also victim of plastic pollution. The same people who uses  bio degradable plates and glasses  in their different rituals and ceremonies few years back have switched to products  made of  plastics, which also causes severe concern in respect of human health and environment.

The alternatives:

In recent times, the central and state governments have taken measures to cut down the usage of plastic bags, but barely any implementation could be seen on the ground. Many laws are also prevail to ban plastics, but   proper enforcement  is a question. Apart from government initiatives, many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are spreading awareness on the impact of plastic bags on the environment but that too have imitation.

  • The first and the best option to reduce plastic waste is to minimize single use plastics in our daily life.  It is essential to reuse old plastic bags for multiple shopping trips instead of throwing or dumping in landfills. We should make habit to refuse a plastic bag for things that we can easily carry.
  • We should try to reduce the use of plastic bags by using reusable bags or eco-friendly bags like cotton, canvas and jute shopping bags as substitutes for shopping or any other purpose. In fact brown paper bags can be use to buy groceries such as rice, pulses, bread etc.
  • Still in some parts of Assam, vegetable vendors sell their items by wrapping naturally available substances like banana leaves kaupat ( Phrynium imbricatum) , Tora ( Alpinia allughas) and other locally available broad leaves.
  • We should avoid drinking tea in plastic cup, which became a fashion in small restaurants and roadside tea stalls. In many parts of Assam plates and bowls made of areca nut leaves (Areca catechu) are commercially available which should be used in place of Styrofoam plates and bowls.
  • Instead of purchasing plastic packaged drinking water, people should carry their own water bottle made of glass or metal during travel.
  • Segregation of waste is very essential where organic matters of one household should be used for composting purpose, whereas the rest single use plastic should be rightly segregate and try to reuse or sending them to recycle unit or making them for any crafts item.
  • Our day starts with beautiful morning and we start the day with brushing our teethes, but instead of using plastic toothbrush, we should insist on bamboo tooth brush and it will create employment opportunities for our community.
  • Administration like municipal authority must make strict rules to get rid of these plastic bags. Government should make shops charge heavily for every plastic bag given out and collect it from them as addition tax on plastic. Furthermore the tax collected from these can be used to make biodegradable bags. Strict vigil by the municipal authority on open burning of plastic waste. Civil society organisations should be engaged for the IEC programmes.
  • A well planned extensive mass awareness programme on plastic pollution by the Govt. or any other CSO/CBO with much dedication with more involvement of community . Special emphasis should be given to educate school children  regarding harmful effect of plastic in its any form  and incorporation of pollution as a subject in their course curriculum.

Though people are aware of its harmful effect to both health and environment but are still using it. The reason behind it is multi farious -the authority concerned has not been successful in imposing the ban, availability of lower grade plastic bags, and also in-availability of eco-friendly bags. It is high time to think about our planet Earth for our survival. Thus the question of plastic bags ultimately comes down to the issue of use. If people start using environmental friendly alternatives such as cotton bags, jute bags will definitely eradicate the use of plastic bags. Lastly I can surely say such eco friendly steps will make the  way to safer, healthier and green environment.

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