Dealing with The Plastic Problem: The Un-Plastic Collective

18 Feb 2020

Once known as the ‘miracle material’, plastic has made modern life as we know it today, possible. Unfortunately, there is so much of it that the world is now almost drowning in plastic! 

Synthetic plastic was invented in 1907 and became increasingly popular post World War II. The increasing use of plastic and its limited recycling have led to an exponential rise in the amount of plastic waste. Its production rate has risen twenty-fold and is expected to double over the next two decades, if not checked. Globally, since the early 1950s, over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced and about 60% of that has ended up in landfills or in the natural environment. 

India consumes 16.5 million tonnes of plastic annually, of which 43% is used for packaging. India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, of which 40% remains uncollected.

Today, plastic is almost all pervasive. According to a CII report, ‘The Un-Plastic Strategy – Why and How to Minimize Externalities’, the material lends itself well for use in a variety of applications such as communications, transport, healthcare, medicines, fashion, furniture, appliances, construction, electrical and electronic appliances, agriculture and packaging, among others. No doubt this has benefitted modern society by way of creation of jobs and markets. However, there are negative fall-outs as well, especially in terms of the damage to the environment, which are often not reflected in the economic growth numbers.

Single-use plastics are disposable and meant for use and throw. They comprise of polythene bags, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic wrappers, straws, and styrofoam cups or plates. Some are completely non-degradable; some plastics take years to disintegrate and prove to be extremely harmful to bio-diversity.  Over the course of their lifetime, the chemicals used to produce plastic get transmitted to animal tissue and finally enter the human food chain. Birds, fish and other animals end up ingesting this toxic waste and ultimately transferring it up the food chain to other mammals.

Along with 60 other countries that have made commitments to address this issue, India has also announced its commitment to eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022.

Towards that goal, the Un-Plastic Collective (UPC), a joint initiative of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF-India) was launched in August 2019. 

The UPC is a voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiative, which aims to address ways to mitigate plastic pollution and its detrimental impact on nature and move towards a circular economy through corporate commitments. It is hoped that these will translate into meaningful and measurable action. The initiative aims to:

Eliminate unnecessary use of plastic
Reuse plastic and reduce plastic leakage
Replace plastic with sustainable alternative material
Turn commitments to meaningful, measureable action

Businesses, in particular, have a vital role to play in this exemplary shift from a plastic dependent ecosystem towards a more sustainable, circular economy. They can bring about change at the micro and macro levels.

UPC aims to bring together businesses, governments, NGOs and civil society to focus efforts on collaborative approaches and maximize synergies to un-plastic in a time-bound manner. It seeks to minimize the externalities of plastics on the environment by maintaining the ecological and social well-being of our planet. In doing so it complements other global initiatives such as the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste which work towards driving global action on managing plastic waste.

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