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.

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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

17,66,30,634Cases
5,80,25,717Active
11,47,82,895Recovered
38,22,022Deaths
Coronavirus has spread to 193 countries. The total confirmed cases worldwide are 17,66,30,634 and 38,22,022 have died; 5,80,25,717 are active cases and 11,47,82,895 have recovered as on June 16, 2021 at 3:30 am.

India

2,96,33,105 62,224Cases
8,65,43247,946Active
2,83,88,100 1,07,628Recovered
3,79,573 2,542Deaths
In India, there are 2,96,33,105 confirmed cases including 3,79,573 deaths. The number of active cases is 8,65,432 and 2,83,88,100 have recovered as on June 16, 2021 at 2:30 am.

State Details

State Cases Active Recovered Deaths
Maharashtra

59,24,773 7,652

1,41,440 8,982

56,69,179 15,176

1,14,154 1,458

Karnataka

27,77,010 5,041

1,62,303 9,859

25,81,559 14,785

33,148 115

Kerala

27,48,204 12,246

1,12,792 1,456

26,23,904 13,536

11,508 166

Tamil Nadu

23,78,298 11,805

1,25,215 11,669

22,23,015 23,207

30,068 267

Andhra Pradesh

18,20,134 5,741

75,134 4,879

17,32,948 10,567

12,052 53

Uttar Pradesh

17,03,207 270

7,221 890

16,74,072 1,104

21,914 56

West Bengal

14,68,044 3,268

20,046 1,125

14,30,949 2,068

17,049 75

Delhi

14,31,498 228

3,078 148

14,03,569 364

24,851 12

Chhattisgarh

9,88,172 609

11,717 943

9,63,113 1,544

13,342 8

Rajasthan

9,50,133 172

5,619 848

9,35,658 1,006

8,856 14

Odisha

8,59,526 3,405

44,358 3,436

8,11,780 6,799

3,388 42

Gujarat

8,21,078 352

8,884 658

8,02,187 1,006

10,007 4

Madhya Pradesh

7,88,649 224

3,610 331

7,76,424 528

8,615 27

Haryana

7,66,357 228

3,703 374

7,53,584 564

9,070 38

Bihar

7,17,949 410

4,360 412

7,04,075 813

9,514 9

Telangana

6,06,436 1,556

19,933 528

5,82,993 2,070

3,510 14

Punjab

5,89,153 628

10,802 1,111

5,62,701 1,691

15,650 48

Assam

4,66,590 3,415

41,184 475

4,21,378 2,906

4,028 34

Jharkhand

3,43,793 184

2,646 416

3,36,058 596

5,089 4

Uttarakhand

3,37,449 274

3,642 266

3,26,822 515

6,985 25

Jammu And Kashmir

3,08,726 715

12,407 1,125

2,92,114 1,830

4,205 10

Himachal Pradesh

1,99,197 321

4,050 382

1,91,737 691

3,410 12

Goa

1,63,048 327

4,175 231

1,55,926 548

2,947 10

Puducherry

1,13,192 355

4,668 279

1,06,828 629

1,696 5

Chandigarh

61,200 40

486 21

59,917 58

797 3

Manipur

61,096 785

8,744 301

51,354 476

998 8

Tripura

60,385 536

4,886 65

54,870 596

629 5

Meghalaya

42,759 450

4,430 99

37,579 542

750 7

Arunachal Pradesh

31,938 290

2,849 40

28,934 326

155 4

Nagaland

23,854 101

2,972 229

20,423 327

459 3

Ladakh

19,649 38

552 20

18,898 57

199 1

Sikkim

18,659 209

3,239 67

15,136 273

284 3

Mizoram

15,899 268

3,637 45

12,191 312

71 1

Dadra And Nagar Haveli

10,473 9

61 2

10,408 7

4

Lakshadweep

9,297 61

484 36

8,768 96

45 1

Andaman And Nicobar Islands

7,280 11

105 4

7,049 15

126

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