Elaborating on the alternatives to plastics, Shipra Sharma said, “In the earlier days, plastics were made from casein (from dairy). These were biodegradable and hence less harmful for the environment.
“Another alternative to regular plastic could be starch-based plastic, produced from corn starch, cassava roots or sugarcane. Policy push by the Government which incentivizes usage of a particular percentage of recycled plastic by business houses will give a boost to recycled plastic. Recyclability of plastic needs also to be encouraged at design stage.
“An interesting discovery happened recently which could possibly help recycle millions of tons of plastic bottles which mankind discards and which persists in the environment for hundreds of years. Researchers from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) accidently discovered an enzyme, which apparently is able to “eat” polyethylene terephthalate, a patented plastic used in plastic bottles.
“If only we go back to the ways of carrying our own water while travelling, switch to carrying jute or cloth bags for groceries/shopping, indulge in careful buying of recyclable plastic, reduce and reuse whatever plastic we could in our day to day lives, perhaps these small individual steps will transform into a national action and collectively in to a global movement. Supported by a conducive business and policy ecosystem it will amplify the efforts of various Governments, private enterprises, environmental groups and countless people towards addressing climate action.”
As the lobbying, backtracking, and confusion that have beset Maharashtra, especially, over the past months, shows that the transition to more environment suitable alternatives is not going to be easy. More than 60 countries now have some kind of ban or tax on plastic bags, according to UNEP’s recent report. Data on the effectiveness of these rules is available for only half these countries, of which 30 percent have seen a dramatic decline in use, the report said. These include Denmark, Ireland, China, and the Netherlands. The other 20 percent of countries have seen no change. In May, the European Union proposed a ban on 10 single-use items, including bags, straws, and cotton swabs. Britain also has called for a ban on plastic straws, and other countries may follow suit; in the United States alone, 500 million plastic straws are used daily.
Among the earliest and most successful countries at slashing plastic bag use was Denmark, which in 1993 became the first country to tax plastic bags, levying charges first on bag makers, and then in 2003, on retailers. Today, the average Dane uses four single-use bags in a year, compared to an American or Pole who uses a bag a day. In 2002, Ireland introduced a fee on plastic bags at supermarkets, leading to a 90 percent reduction in use. And in 2008, China reported a 70 percent fall in plastic bag use after it banned bags of less than 25-micron thickness and levied fees on thicker ones.
“Sometimes problems don’t require a solution to solve them, they require maturity to outgrow them,” concludes Shipra Sharma.