The Indian ocean. The one place that all wanted to claim during the great race for the Spice Islands, whether from the treacherous Cape of Good Hope, the deadly strait of Magellan, or later the revolutionary Suez Canal.
The ocean which once tied the riches of the African and the Middle-Eastern sultans to the spice islands of Malacca and modern-day Indonesia has indeed been through a lot since Magellan first crossed it from West to East for the first time.
The Indian ocean is second only to the Pacific Ocean in terms of number of plastic pieces inside of it. How many Sherlock? 1.3 billion pieces for this ocean alone. 5.5 trillion worldwide.
The Indian ocean is surrounded by countries as varied as they are in the same boat when it comes to climate consequences. Madagascar is suffering from dramatic ecological recomposition (understand biodiversity drop), Australia’s great coral barrier is undergoing the most severe bleaching episode in human memory, and India, the eponymous character of this story, is buried under waste, both its own and imported.
Well, this ocean needs help. The sheer immensity of oceans makes it hard for little humans like us, who have always watched on its horizon with envy and wonder, to understand the impact we are having.
Here’s why you should care about plastics, and here’s why you should care about plastics in India. Here is to data-driven breaking down of truths.
Why Get Rid of Plastics
1. You know why.
Plastics have invaded all habitats of this planet, and even beyond. Space, Arctic and Antarctic, deserts and desert islands… All habitats from the most urban to the most remote have been contaminated.
Arguably, the depth of the oceans is the last frontier on the planet. We still know very little about the species that dwell in those extreme parts of our world. What we know for sure is that these species know our trash better than they know us. A sad state of affair.
2. It’s gotten in our food
What we do have figured out, is how much plastic we have ever made, and how little we have been able to recycle. We have reached a point where plastic has entered the food chain and organisms of virtually every living thing on Earth. Most recently, alarming levels of plastics have been measured in the Arctic plankton, the basis of virtually every meal that any creature has ever had on this planet.
Yummy? There’s more. The latest news came from New Zealand where a sperm whale – the largest creature on this planet – was found dead with 29kg’s worth of plastic bags.
3. It’s not going anywhere
Trash is one of the most ancient signs of civilisation. In 2012, in Western France, a 7,000 years old mesolithic tip was discovered, featuring broken arrowheads, clothing and shellfish. Trash is also the farthest sign of humanity from planet Earth. There is more than half a million space debris revolving around the planet, and some are currently flying to Mars.
Read also: For a New Relationship with Wilderness
Why Start in India
This 1.3 billion people strong country is both a promise for the future and a daunting concentrate of humanity. India stretches from the highest peaks in the world, the mighty Himalaya range, to the monsoon-washed shores of Kerala near the Cancer tropics. It is also the host country for some of the largest and most used rivers in the world.
1. Size of the problem of waste in India
India has a specific problem with waste. Despite plans from the successive governments, efforts to reduce organic waste, industrial waste and plastic waste have not paid. Worst yet, India has become one of the global centres for waste management coming from across the world.
But this paradoxical situation – India is not equipped to manage its own waste and is getting paid to discharge *literal* boatloads of waste on its territory. This proves that what we call trash is actually a valuable source of material, goods, and income. If India can harness the potential of this resource, it could well become the world’s first country that adds-value with trash in no time.
2. Importance of rivers in India
India and rivers is a big love story. This country, defined by its grand nature, its diluvian monsoon rains, and its gigantic population has always revolved around the life (or, more recently, poor health) of its waterways.
In recent years, industrialisation and the massive mechanisation of the country, coupled with an explosion of the population, particularly in the North, put a strain on Indian water resources. Not only did the competition for the blue gold get tenser, but the quality and availability shot down.
The city of Bangalore, once famed for its thousand lakes is now a stark representation of what uncontrolled urbanism can do to a supporting ecosystem. Responding to heavy protests for cleaner waters, the Indian government has recognised the extent of the problem and has been pushing to change the habits of a country that now understands too well its tip troubles.
3. Size of the solution if India beats plastic
New Delhi (pop. 21,7 million, or 25% of Germany) has already implemented a ban on all disposable plastics. The pollution in the Indian capital has spiralled out of control and has given it the unenviable position of the most polluted city in the world. Delhi is India’s biggest contributor of plastic waste with a staggering 26,000 tonnes per day.
India was the host of the recent World Environment Day on June 5th, 2018. As such, it has pledged to take a leadership get the world out of its plastic addiction and stop breathing in the plastic bag. If India is able to remove disposables from its lifestyle, this will achieve two things. First, all countries will have the proof that this is possible. Second, if 1.3 billion families stop using plastics, then humanity will have succeeded in saving itself, its oceans, and all the other living beings in it.
Sagar Mitra, from Southern India’s Pune, are quickly changing dimension from a small-scale project teaching children to respect nature and collect plastic trash in 2011 to a large operation of awareness raising, partnerships and action platform. They need funding to go national and reach more children, parents, and communities. Sagar Mitra has already introduced 134,000 children – and thus families – to the value of plastic rather than its price when its disposed of improperly. This solution transforms plastic into gold for schools and turns a killer material into a source of revenue to bring India to the forefront of the world, where it should be.