Plastic Bags a Bigger Threat to India's Future Than Nuclear Weapons: Supreme Court Justices

Miran Rijavec/CC BY-SA 2.0

Anyone that's spent any amount of time in India knows that plastic litter is everywhere and it's a growing problem—to the degree that if something's not done to stop it and remove the waste that's already there future archeologists could probably identify a site's age by its plastic layers.

The situation is so bad that, the Times of India reports, two Supreme Court justices have weighed in, saying plastic bags are a more serious threat to future generations than is posed by nuclear weapons.

It may be a bit of rhetorical flourish in terms of the immediacy of threat, but it's not entirely hyperbole.

Justices GS Singhvi and SJ Mukhopadhya:

All of us are watching how our lakes, ponds and urban sewerage systems are getting choked by plastic bags. We want to expand the scope of this petition. Unless we examine a total ban on plastic bags or put in place a system for manufacturers mandating them to collect back all plastic bags, the next generation will be threatened with something more serious than the atom bomb. [...] A rough estimate shows more than 100 million water pouches are thrown all over the cities and towns.

For those who aren't aware, in addition to plastic bottles of water, purified drinking water is also widely available in India in small clear flexible pouches, which through a combination of lack of public awareness regarding plastic waste disposal and, in most places, a near total lack of convenient waste bins, are just tossed to the ground.

The justices weren't just opining, it was in response to petitions from two NGOs requesting something be done about the plastic problem on a national basis.

A lawyer for one of the NGOs highlighted how the plastic pollution isn't just ugly, but directly impacts domestic animal (in addition to the more widely recognized impact on wildlife):

Due to government neglect across the country, animals particularly cows and bulls are ingesting plastic from garbage dumps and plastic bags are littered across the landscape and oceans. The ingestion of plastic bags chokes the stomach of cows and up to 60 kg of plastic bags were found in the stomachs of cows. What appears to be a healthy cow is in fact a plastic-choked cow or a cow full of plastic. Apart from the plastic completely choking the digestive system of the cow and causing excruciating pain to the animal, plastic residues enter the human food chain through dairy and animal products.

The NGOs want a phase out of open garbage disposal and open garbage bins, the beginning of door-to-door garbage collection, segregation of plastic waste from all other waste, a ban on plastic bags, treatment of cows and other animals who have ingested plastic.

For all the virtues India has, and to my mind there are a great many, recognition of the immense waste and sewerage problem the nation has, and acting upon it, is not among them. If India wishes to continue its rise on the world stage it needs to rapidly come to terms with these problems and implement effective solutions to them, before the transformation of its cities, towns, villages, and roadsides into wholesale garbage dumps composed largely of plastic waste is complete.

Tags: India | Plastic Bags