Environment & Biodiversity

India’s Marine Plastic Waste Problem

According to the Central Pollution Control Board, India generates 55 million tonnes of municipal waste, of which only 37% is treated. Only 60% of the total collected plastic waste is recycled, while the fate of the remaining 40% is unknown.

Geographical location and trade of India

  • Large coastline: India has a 7,517-kilometer coastline. It is divided into eight states and has an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.02 million square kilometres (EEZ).
  • Large coastal population: 420 million people live in India’s eight coastal states. Around 330 million of these people live on or near a coast. Three out of every four metropolises in the country are located on the coast. Coastal districts house nearly 14.2% of the country’s total population.
  • High trade waters and oceans: Waterways handle approximately 95% of India’s trade by volume and 68% by value.

Reasons for marine Plastic pollution

  • Rapid urbanization and changing lifestyle: Growing population, rapid urbanisation, shifting consumption pattern and changing lifestyles have resulted in the mismanagement of plastic waste, leading to the accumulation of municipal solid waste.
  • Most plastic comes from land-based sources: The majority of these items, particularly plastic, contribute significantly to the growing burden of marine debris. The majority of the plastic in the water comes from land-based sources.
  • Unfiltered waste is transported by rivers: Unaccounted waste from urban agglomerations is transported by river systems to oceans for final disposal.
  • High percentage of garbage dumping: The country’s coastline contributes to the country’s ecological richness, biodiversity, and economy. Thousands of tonnes of garbage, including plastics, glass, metals, sanitary products, and clothing, are dumped into it each year. Plastics, on the other hand, account for roughly 60% of all marine debris that reaches the oceans.

Initiatives by Government

  • Beach clean-up initiatives: At regular intervals, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, through its attached office National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), has undertaken beach clean-up initiatives, awareness campaigns, and beach litter quantification studies.
  • Many studies on marine pollution have been conducted in coastal states and U.S. territories such as Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep. In 2018, 2019, and 2021, NCCR will begin monitoring the temporal and spatial distribution of marine litter along the Indian coasts and adjacent seas.
  • Campaign for Swachh Sagar and Surakshit Sagar: According to the Swachh Sagar, Surakshit Sagar campaign, 2022, an average of 0.98 metric tonnes of trash per km stretch of coastline accumulated, with a weight concentration of 0.012 kilogrammes per metre square.
  • TREE Foundation Attempt: It is worth noting the efforts of some organisations in rescuing marine species from debris. TREE Foundation, a non-profit based in Chennai, has been working tirelessly on this. Their efforts on this front have shed light on the scope of the ghost net problem.
  • Approach of stakeholders: Over the last 20 years, the foundation has saved and released over 3,101,000 Olive Ridley turtles through a multidisciplinary approach involving people from all walks of life, particularly unemployed youth from artisanal fishing communities.

What should be the next step?

  • India’s National Marine Litter Policy: The National Marine Litter Policy of India, announced in 2018, should be developed.
  • Plastic distribution research: A study of marine litter and microplastics distribution and characterization should be carried out along the Indian coast.
  • Coastal city forum: A coastal city forum should be established to ensure a cross-learning ecosystem and to build a synergetic association of coastal urban local bodies and local administration.
  • Long-term vision plan: A long-term vision plan should be developed to promote partnerships between coastal towns, cities, and urban administration in order to reduce marine litter and create sustainable waste management ecosystems. Initiatives such as a multi-stakeholder approach that recognises knowledge, expertise, technology, research, capacity building, and advocacy as key drivers to protect life beneath the waterline can be beneficial.
  • Public awareness campaign: Annual beach clean-ups and awareness campaigns should be replaced with regular ones.
  • Effective ban: Although many states claim that single-use plastics larger than 50 microns are prohibited, the ban is ineffective on the ground. Such legislations can be put into action.

@the end

Marine plastic pollution is killing the marine ecosystem, including animals, plants, and corals. In addition to ocean trade, land-based plastic production should be prioritised when managing marine pollution. The current approach of governments around the world to combating marine pollution is insufficient.

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