The Plastic Bomb

Plastic pollution is one of the most concerning environmental issues, that the world is combating now.  It is more prevalent in developing Asian and African countries where plastic collection and recycling systems are inefficient.

India, which generates 9.4 million tons of plastic waste annually, ranks third after the USA and China. The per capita plastic consumption in India was estimated at 15 kilograms per person in 2021, a 14 percent rise over the previous three decades. Rapid urbanization, changing in consumption pattern, increase in income are reported to be the reason for the spike in the consumption of plastics.

It has been reported that 60 percent of the plastic waste is collected and recycled, while the remaining 40 percent is dumped in landfills and water streams. As per the reports of the Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi, Telangana, followed by Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh, generated the maximum quantity of plastic waste in 2021, while Delhi, followed by Goa, and Telangana, were reported to generate the highest per capita plastic waste in India. Studies indicate that India generates 26000 tons of plastic waste everyday which is equivalent of approximately 26000 small cars.

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Plastics are found everywhere, from the top of the highest mountains to the deepest trenches in the ocean. The microplastics formed by the degradation and fragmentation of large plastic pieces pose a great threat to the environment as well as to humans.  Studies reveal that traces of microplastic particles are found in human blood, lungs and even in faeces. New studies indicates that bloods carrying these microplastic is linked to a greater risk of heart attack, stroke and death. Researchers found that 400,000 people die each year from diseases such as cancer caused by living in close proximity to mismanaged plastic waste.

The huge piles of plastic garbage serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, flies and rats that can cause dengue and malaria. Besides human being it also effects terrestrial as well as aquatic creatures. Millions of animals ranging from birds to marine animals are killed every year by the consumption of plastic wastes. Nearly 700 species including endangered one are known to have been affected by plastic. Traces of micro plastics are found in aquatic animals which are served on our dinner plates thus directly or indirectly targeting the human population.

Current status in Ladakh       

Unlike other parts of the country Ladakh possess a very fragile ecosystem. Ladakh and the Himalayas are blessed with river basins and glaciers and are often referred to as the water towers of Asia. These glaciers serve as a source of irrigation for agriculture and drinking water.

The flora and fauna of these regions are accustomed to thrive well under extreme climatic conditions and a slight change in ecosystem poses a great threat to their survival. From the last few decades an increase in the plastic consumption has been observed in Ladakh region. Think back to the days when storekeepers wrapped goods in paper bags, soft drinks came in glass bottles, and our ancestors’ carried veggies in canvas bags. Recall a marriage function where we hardly used plastic and disposable items at all.

Weddings now a days have turned into extravagant show of flaunting status, wealth and prestige. In Ladakh weddings seems to be incomplete if we do not use items made up of plastics or other non-bio gradable items.

Earlier were the days when the ceremonial dining spread, commonly known as ‘Dastarkhan’, made up of cloth, was the glory of the party has been replaced with plastic material. Packed water bottles and plastic glasses have substituted the traditional way of using kettle and copper or steel glasses. Cotton towels has been replaced by wet tissues which is a non-bio gradable item.

Among these, the plastic pouch bag coated with aluminum that is used to package the leftover mutton dishes is the most dangerous. It becomes more harmful when it comes into contact with hot dishes. On an average each wedding function generates 30-40 kg of plastic wastes which can have a negative impact on health and environment.                                                                         

Implications on health and environment

In the past several decades, Ladakh has seen the emergence of some diseases that were not as common in the past. These days, young individuals frequently suffer from infertility, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and cardiac arrest.

The widespread use of plastics may be one of the reasons causing these diseases to appear.  Packed water bottles which we often use have a detrimental effect on health as various toxic chemicals are used during its manufacturing. With the passage of time these chemical leaches into water and effect the consumer. A chemical called Phthalate found in plastic can lead to liver cancer and a reduction in sperm count. Dioxin found in plastic when exposed to sun can cause breast cancer in women. Diabetes, obesity, behavioral problems and early puberty in girls are linked to chemical called Biphenyl A found in plastic.

During the past several years, the ecology has undergone changes with winter witnessing warm temperatures and less snowfall and summers with moderate and scanty rainfall. Glaciers are melting at alarming rate with rising water level in rivers. In recent years, there has been an apparent decline in biodiversity and the emergence of new plant diseases and pests. Various factors are responsible for the change in ecology and plastic usage may be one of them.  With the increase in income, change in life style and influx of tourists’ usage of plastics has shown a worrying trend.

These undisposed plastics often find their way either into the rivers or in landfills causing irreparable damage to the soil health and aquatic life. Microplastics of the size less than 5 mm in length are carried by wind and precipitation and accumulate in glaciers, where they have the tendency to melt these glaciers. Burning of plastics releases carbon dioxide which is one of the greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.  A study reveal that one kg of plastic emits 2.9 kg of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Plastics in Suru River comes in myriad form from shopping bags, food containers, plastic bottles, toys, diapers, and much more. These plastics affects the aquatic species to a great extent. In the recent years, there has been a noticeable decline in the fish population in Suru River. The author anticipates that these microplastic have also found their way into our food chain through drinking water and food consumption.

Mitigation Strategies

  • The government must formulate a comprehensive plastic waste management and impose stringent laws to ban single use plastic. In order to raise public awareness and motivate individuals to take action against plastic pollution, the government must engage in public education campaigns.
  • The religious scholars who can play a pivotal role to combat plastic menace must advise the people to discourage use of plastic and its products.
  • Schools are an ideal venue to educate young people about the negative aspects of plastic on their health and the environment.
  • The culture academy must demonstrate the negative effect of plastics through plays and dramas.
  • It’s time to go back to our roots and embrace traditional ways of organising weddings and other functions.

  The time has reached to beat the plastic otherwise it will beat us and will make our end miserable.                                   


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