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

19,66,15,634Cases
6,33,31,644Active
12,90,85,240Recovered
41,98,750Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 194 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 19,66,15,634 and 41,98,750 have died; 6,33,31,644 are active cases and 12,90,85,240 have recovered as on July 30, 2021 at 4:07 am.

India

3,15,72,344 44,230Cases
4,05,155 1,315Active
3,07,43,972 42,360Recovered
4,23,217 555Deaths
In India, there are 3,15,72,344 confirmed cases including 4,23,217 deaths. The number of active cases is 4,05,155 and 3,07,43,972 have recovered as on July 30, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

62,90,156 7,242

81,933 3,980

60,75,888 11,032

1,32,335 190

Kerala

33,49,365 22,064

1,55,327 5,287

31,77,453 16,649

16,585 128

Karnataka

29,01,247 2,052

23,277 685

28,41,479 1,332

36,491 35

Tamil Nadu

25,55,664 1,859

21,207 314

25,00,434 2,145

34,023 28

Andhra Pradesh

19,62,049 2,107

21,279 280

19,27,438 1,807

13,332 20

Uttar Pradesh

17,08,373 60

784 16

16,84,834 44

22,755

West Bengal

15,26,539 766

11,300 70

14,97,116 822

18,123 14

Delhi

14,36,144 51

554 19

14,10,541 70

25,049

Chhattisgarh

10,01,781 130

2,086 140

9,86,175 270

13,520

Odisha

9,74,132 1,615

15,276 489

9,53,088 2,039

5,768 65

Rajasthan

9,53,622 17

259 9

9,44,410 26

8,953

Gujarat

8,24,829 27

268 6

8,14,485 33

10,076

Madhya Pradesh

7,91,796 18

130 0

7,81,153 18

10,513

Haryana

7,69,858 30

712 10

7,59,516 17

9,630 3

Bihar

7,24,719 46

481 1

7,14,596 42

9,642 3

Telangana

6,43,716 623

9,188 126

6,30,732 746

3,796 3

Punjab

5,99,005 58

553 6

5,82,162 60

16,290 4

Assam

5,64,030 1,299

14,114 385

5,44,695 1,664

5,221 20

Jharkhand

3,47,105 56

259 22

3,41,720 34

5,126

Uttarakhand

3,41,982 48

669 3

3,33,952 51

7,361

Jammu And Kashmir

3,21,207 181

1,144 5

3,15,686 175

4,377 1

Himachal Pradesh

2,05,728 229

1,098 145

2,01,110 84

3,520

Goa

1,70,900 90

1,077 5

1,66,679 93

3,144 2

Puducherry

1,20,725 98

972 49

1,17,961 49

1,792

Manipur

96,824 1,000

10,895 27

84,408 1,016

1,521 11

Tripura

78,059 271

3,640 221

73,665 488

754 4

Meghalaya

63,745 731

5,750 294

56,933 423

1,062 14

Chandigarh

61,948 5

37 1

61,102 4

809

Arunachal Pradesh

47,477 335

4,252 49

43,000 383

225 1

Mizoram

37,171 764

11,862 252

25,168 511

141 1

Nagaland

27,653 67

1,299 51

25,798 114

556 4

Sikkim

26,132 276

3,297 180

22,498 92

337 4

Ladakh

20,324 4

60 4

20,057 8

207

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,643 1

36 5

10,603 6

4

Lakshadweep

10,162 7

70 6

10,042 13

50

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,534 3

10 3

7,395

129

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