Opinion: COVID-19 Has Intensified India’s Plastic And Bio-Medical Waste Crisis

Opinion: COVID-19 Has Intensified India’s Plastic And Bio-Medical Waste Crisis

Biomedical waste has become a major issue, now that it comes from every household due to COVID-19, writes Ripu Daman Bevli, Founder, Litter Free India movement and Plogging Ambassador of India
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Opinion: COVID-19 Has Intensified India's Plastic And Bio-Medical Waste CrisisCOVID-19 has disrupted our fight against single-use plastic, writes Ripu Daman Bevli, Founder, Litter Free India movement and Plogging Ambassador of India

When I wrote my first blog on NDTV in November 2020, the world was seeing the COVID-19 pandemic numbers coming down. India wasn’t any different. The situation was normalizing and there was a sense of relief. There were voices too from the medical and science fraternity which cautioned how global pandemics in the past have played out. Case in point, the Spanish flu from a century ago had three major waves, with the second 10-15 times deadlier than the first.

Also Read: World Environment Day 2021: Here’s All You Need To Know

Then life started coming back to normal. I had to get back on the ground to resume our work too. But since we could not afford to stop wearing masks and avoid social distancing, I started the Ride For Change campaign in February 2021 where every week, I cycled from Delhi to another city in North India, including Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Himachal. The campaign endeavoured to solve two big problems through its primary message of Zero Emissions and Zero Waste. Over five weeks, we had cumulatively cycled 26,000 KMs, reduced about 7 tonnes of carbon emissions and picked up 1.8 tonnes of litter from parks, streets, and even forests (Aravalis).

And then the second wave struck, more transmissible and dangerous than the first one. Suddenly the virus was in the air. One mask, especially the fabric mask, was not good enough anymore. Double masking became a norm with a combination of surgical mask and N95 thought to be most efficacious. With Plastic Upvaas, our fight since the past year had been against single-use surgical masks and gloves, and now they had become a life-saving essential. How can you argue against that?

But the more relevant question is how did we get here? What are we doing to our planet, its environment? Let’s look at how COVID-19 has disrupted our fight against single-use plastic.

Also Read: Plastic Menace: How Much Plastic Are You Eating?

In the US, COVID-19 galvanized efforts by plastic lobbying groups to contest and overturn the bans in several states. At the start of 2020, an American Grocer Giant Eagle phased out single-use plastic bags. That cut down on 20 million single-use plastic bags. But in mid-March, the grocery chain returned plastic bags to all stores, requesting customers to keep reusable ones at home. The US demand for plastic packaging increased by 5 per cent in 2020 as compared to the previous year, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

Biomedical waste has become a major issue, now that it comes from every household. India produced 33,000 tonnes of biomedical waste in just seven months between June 2020 and January 2021, as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The segregation at source, collection, and disposal has been a major challenge and poses additional health risks beyond covid. India has about 200 Common Bio-medical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTF) where this waste needs to go. In July 2020, Delhi’s capacity to handle such waste was 74 tonnes a day whereas Delhi was already generating 5 times the amount. That makes the waste pickers and populations living near landfills and garbage dumps extremely vulnerable. All ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) along with relevant authorities need to ensure capacity building and minimal leakages in the bio-medical waste journey from source to disposal.

Two examples of these leakages. Recently, we got our house sanitized. The staff was well-trained and came in hazmat suits. After work, these men asked if they could throw their PPEs (Personal Protective Equipments) in our trash bin. I was astonished and told them the right way of doing it. The second example is when I was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-April and was in isolation for three weeks, while several departments including the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, Delhi Government, Local District office called up on a regular basis, our household was never provided with yellow bags. As per CPCB guidelines, every household with a COVID-positive person needs to keep their solid waste separately. Once I recovered, I spoke to the Board officials, identified the gaps, and devised measures to solve it. But then, this is just one Urban Local Body (ULB). There are hundreds of others in the country. These two examples highlight the huge challenge we have.

The Rationale Behind Not Using Single-Use Plastics:

As per a survey by Mumbai-based Earth5R in May 2020, single-use plastic consumption increased by 47 per cent in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. In 2020, a Lancet study showed that plastics are conducive environments where coronavirus can stay up to 6 days, whereas on a cloth, it will die out within 1-2 days. A Greenpeace USA study along with 125 experts suggested that reusables are as safe as single-use.

There is Science on one side and people’s fears on the other. How do we tackle that?

Let me end by asking you a question. When you travel or eat outside, would you prefer your cup or a single-use cup that you have no clue how many hands has it exchanged. Similarly, with straws, bottles, mugs, bags, and so on.

Whatever we do, let’s not make this pandemic an excuse to create another crisis.

Also Read: With An Aim To Make The Tourist Town Of Vagamon Clean And Plastic-Free, Kerala Launches Green Check Posts

(The article was authored by Ripu Daman Bevli, Founder, Litter Free India movement and Plogging Ambassador of India)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

World

17,91,56,496Cases
5,81,68,051Active
11,71,06,212Recovered
38,82,233Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 193 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 17,91,56,496 and 38,82,233 have died; 5,81,68,051 are active cases and 11,71,06,212 have recovered as on June 23, 2021 at 3:45 am.

India

3,00,28,709 50,848Cases
6,43,19419,327Active
2,89,94,855 68,817Recovered
3,90,660 1,358Deaths
In India, there are 3,00,28,709 confirmed cases including 3,90,660 deaths. The number of active cases is 6,43,194 and 2,89,94,855 have recovered as on June 23, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

59,87,521 8,470

1,26,468 1,055

57,42,258 9,043

1,18,795 482

Kerala

28,29,460 12,617

1,00,881 746

27,16,284 11,730

12,295 141

Karnataka

28,15,029 3,709

1,18,615 4,541

26,62,250 8,111

34,164 139

Tamil Nadu

24,36,819 6,895

56,886 4,443

23,48,353 11,144

31,580 194

Andhra Pradesh

18,57,352 4,169

53,880 4,260

17,91,056 8,376

12,416 53

Uttar Pradesh

17,04,678 202

3,910 253

16,78,486 397

22,282 58

West Bengal

14,85,438 1,852

22,508 232

14,45,493 2,037

17,437 47

Delhi

14,32,778 397

1,918 78

14,05,927 467

24,933 8

Chhattisgarh

9,91,653 482

8,007 557

9,70,244 1,032

13,402 7

Rajasthan

9,51,393 137

2,388 303

9,40,101 437

8,904 3

Odisha

8,83,490 2,957

30,859 1,240

8,48,960 4,159

3,671 38

Gujarat

8,22,620 135

5,159 480

8,07,424 612

10,037 3

Madhya Pradesh

7,89,415 65

1,707 273

7,78,902 318

8,806 20

Haryana

7,67,726 146

2,200 137

7,56,231 263

9,295 20

Bihar

7,20,207 268

2,811 206

7,07,833 468

9,563 6

Telangana

6,15,574 1,175

16,640 606

5,95,348 1,771

3,586 10

Punjab

5,93,063 405

5,968 509

5,71,207 880

15,888 34

Assam

4,88,179 2,869

32,975 350

4,50,924 2,482

4,280 37

Jharkhand

3,44,775 110

1,417 72

3,38,256 180

5,102 2

Uttarakhand

3,38,978 171

2,896 68

3,29,030 231

7,052 8

Jammu And Kashmir

3,12,584 428

7,181 578

3,01,134 999

4,269 7

Himachal Pradesh

2,00,791 188

2,276 132

1,95,062 315

3,453 5

Goa

1,64,957 303

2,920 146

1,59,029 438

3,008 11

Puducherry

1,15,364 284

3,214 150

1,10,423 433

1,727 1

Manipur

64,993 575

9,214 84

54,714 649

1,065 10

Tripura

63,140 395

3,747 163

58,735 554

658 4

Chandigarh

61,467 23

278 33

60,383 56

806

Meghalaya

45,976 421

4,273 77

40,915 341

788 3

Arunachal Pradesh

33,664 289

2,548 9

30,956 279

160 1

Nagaland

24,438 64

1,757 87

22,204 149

477 2

Ladakh

19,871 33

360 5

19,309 38

202

Sikkim

19,458 137

2,430 18

16,732 152

296 3

Mizoram

18,409 430

4,424 197

13,900 233

85

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,520 4

61 1

10,455 3

4

Lakshadweep

9,504 33

315 4

9,142 36

47 1

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,425 10

103 6

7,195 4

127

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