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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

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

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

24,06,78,961Cases
20,23,40,977Active
3,34,39,331Recovered
48,98,653Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 195 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 24,06,78,961 and 48,98,653 have died; 20,23,40,977 are active cases and 3,34,39,331 have recovered as on October 18, 2021 at 4:17 am.

India

3,40,81,315 13,596Cases
1,89,6946,152Active
3,34,39,331 19,582Recovered
4,52,290 166Deaths
In India, there are 3,40,81,315 confirmed cases including 4,52,290 deaths. The number of active cases is 1,89,694 and 3,34,39,331 have recovered as on October 18, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

65,91,697 1,715

32,230 994

64,19,678 2,680

1,39,789 29

Kerala

48,54,321 7,555

88,186 3,292

47,39,270 10,773

26,865 74

Karnataka

29,83,459 326

9,479 58

29,36,039 380

37,941 4

Tamil Nadu

26,87,092 1,218

14,814 208

26,36,379 1,411

35,899 15

Andhra Pradesh

20,60,472 432

6,034 159

20,40,131 586

14,307 5

Uttar Pradesh

17,10,028 9

119 10

16,87,011 19

22,898

West Bengal

15,80,530 624

7,421 24

15,54,132 634

18,977 14

Delhi

14,39,390 32

320 6

14,13,981 38

25,089

Odisha

10,35,077 443

4,542 68

10,22,250 508

8,285 3

Chhattisgarh

10,05,654 16

183 2

9,91,901 14

13,570

Rajasthan

9,54,390 2

42 2

9,45,394 4

8,954

Gujarat

8,26,290 10

207 6

8,15,997 16

10,086

Madhya Pradesh

7,92,684 5

84 12

7,82,077 17

10,523

Haryana

7,71,076 15

123 9

7,60,904 6

10,049

Bihar

7,26,026 5

48 4

7,16,317 1

9,661

Telangana

6,68,955 122

3,924 55

6,61,093 176

3,938 1

Assam

6,06,468 205

3,436 46

5,97,082 245

5,950 6

Punjab

6,02,035 27

227 8

5,85,264 16

16,544 3

Jharkhand

3,48,430 7

122 1

3,43,173 8

5,135

Uttarakhand

3,43,756 9

178 1

3,36,181 8

7,397

Jammu And Kashmir

3,31,062 95

843 12

3,25,793 107

4,426

Himachal Pradesh

2,21,437 131

1,303 5

2,16,414 125

3,720 1

Goa

1,77,522 60

604 6

1,73,572 62

3,346 4

Puducherry

1,27,396 52

585 13

1,24,961 64

1,850 1

Manipur

1,22,737 104

1,422 0

1,19,418 102

1,897 2

Mizoram

1,12,848 249

11,633 1,143

1,00,829 1,389

386 3

Tripura

84,321 16

104 4

83,401 12

816

Meghalaya

82,953 55

845 32

80,673 86

1,435 1

Chandigarh

65,302 3

25 3

64,457 6

820

Arunachal Pradesh

54,987 7

140 30

54,567 37

280

Sikkim

31,749 4

174 8

31,184 12

391

Nagaland

31,611 40

248 12

30,689 28

674

Ladakh

20,878 2

36 10

20,634 12

208

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,676 1

4 1

10,668

4

Lakshadweep

10,365

0 0

10,314

51

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,641

9 0

7,503

129

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