Sustainability Sunday #81

India is a beautiful country. Between the enormous sprawling cities are landscapes in which as far as the eye can see is just green green fields, but should you be anywhere near a city you’ll see the difference between the rural and the urban is stark. The sheer number of people living in India’s cities is completely overwhelming and the 24/7 hustle and bustle can easily sweep you into a sleepless routine. With such an enormous population, comes an enormous responsibility to look after the planet.

I visited India back in 2013, I travelled to the northwest region of Assam (where the tea comes from) to a university where I was completing a study for my dissertation on the anaerobic digestion of cattle waste to create a by-product that could be used as a natural fertiliser. Sorry, this sounds overly technical even to me now – in essence I was seeing whether when cow pat biodegrades in a container without air would the phosphate and nitrogen components crystallise to then be drawn out to use on crops. The result was actually a success and the Tezpur University continues to experiment with these crystals to see if they could develop them for commercial use.

I have digressed. This blog is not about cow pat, it is about plastic. After my work in Assam, I travelled to the typical destinations in India, back to Calcutta, and then on to Dehli, New Dehli, Agra (where the Taj Mahal is located) through Rajasthan to Jaipur and finished up in Mumbai. One of the things I noticed about India, in both the cities AND rural areas, although primarily cities, was the volume of plastic involved in people’s daily lives. This ranged from plastic bottles for water or oil to giant sheets of tarpaulin that people used to spread their wares on street corners or, more sadly, to sleep under at night. Litter is a huge problem. Rubbish lines the roads throughout all the cities, with Calcutta being the worst I saw and anywhere there is a water system – gutters, ponds, streams, rivers – they too are lined with rubbish. With one of the fastest growing economies and populations (currently estimated at around 1.3 billion) there is constant development, but with this comes the issue of any growing nation – waste. It is estimated that a whopping 60% of all ocean plastic pollution is dumped from India and the country generates around 56,000 tonnes of plastic per day so something has to change.

And it has, this World Environment Day the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, pledged to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022 at a WED summit in New Delhi. In conjunction with this pledge, the government also announced a campaign to tackle their waterways, and primarily the coastline. Currently in India there is only one law on plastic, this is that no manufacturer may create plastic bags with below 50 microns as the thinner the plastic, the greater the danger to the environment. Therefore, with a ban on plastic bottles, cutlery and bags the change could be huge.

“The choices that we make today will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy, but through awareness, technology and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices.” Modi.

With an upsetting number of people living in extreme poverty in India, the environmental degradation of the country will affect these people the most. These are people who live on the streets or in make shift homes, they rely on the waterways for food, and are most susceptible to changes in climate.

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Whilst the scene I have set here may not be the most appealing I urge anyone looking to travel somewhere to really experience a totally different way of life to visit India. It was somewhere I’d never really had on my list of places to go until I got the opportunity to study there. India has the most beautiful scenery, parks and palaces, the people are generous, welcoming and fascinating due to the twists in turns in India’s history, and beyond all, the food is divine. No matter where you eat, whether it be a 5 star hotel or a street seller’s goods every single thing is delicious.

Here’s to hoping India, and other eastern nations, continue to make choices that protect their beautiful countries.

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