Jaya Krushna Panigrahi, the Secretary of Orissa Environmental Society (OES), HoD of Zoology & Environment Department of an institute in Bhubaneswar, is one of the first environmentalists to initiate plastic ban. In a tete-a-tete with Orissa POST, he talks about various aspects of plastic ban and its implementation at ground level.
How do you view the role of plastics in meeting various human needs in retrospect?
In the second half of 20th Century, invention of materials used in plastic manufacturing was considered a blessing for the mankind as it befittingly suits to our manifold requirements. To its advantage, it has properties like light weight, low cost, flexible, transparent, corrosion resistant, chemically inert, strong and durable, with exceptional barrier properties as regards the liquids. Two scientists, Karl Ziegler of Germany (for polyethylene) and Giulio Natta of Italy (for polypropylene) were awarded Nobel Prize in 1963 for synthesis of polymers used vastly in plastic production. From automobiles and electronic gadgets to packaging and toy-making, plastics have versatile applications. However, its excessive use, and the consequent severe environmental and health hazards posed by plastics have been a cause of concern for the humanity at this juncture.
How do you see the plastic ban imposed by the state government in five municipal corporations and Puri?
It is a timely and sensible initiative taken by the government when the world community is focusing its attention to get rid of the adverse impact of plastic pollution and to find out appropriate substitutes. The UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) had aptly chosen the theme of this year’s World Environment Day as ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ to raise awareness on the issue across the globe by sensitising people. The Union government notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 with a view to reducing the use of synthetic plastic materials (produced from petroleum, natural gas and coal) streamlining their efficacious management and promoting eco-friendly alternatives of plastics. The present initiative by the state government is part of the inventiveness to be extended to the whole state within the next two years, as declared.
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What are the alternatives to the plastic carry bags and whether these are now available in local markets?
We can use materials such as cotton, jute and paper that are biodegradable and to some extent more durable plastic bags, as were being used 20/30 years back. Plates manufactured from leaves and the likes are very good substitutes to be used in social functions as disposables. Bio-plastics or green plastics made from plant materials like corn starch, cellulose and polylactide acid (PLA) is natural recyclable material which has been successfully produced and these hold a lot of promise for the future. A lot of scientific research is going on to find out cost-effective, eco-friendly substitutes at the earliest. Research in biotechnology is also progressing to develop new strains of bacteria which can degrade the synthetic plastics. The most vital issue at the moment is to alter our mindset and boost our commitment to reinforce the quality of our environment by staying away from plastic use.
In spite of the ban, polythene carry bags are still available in the market. How can this be prevented?
The onus of success of the ban lies on the commitment of the implementing authorities of the government, the manufacturers, the vendors and people in general. Enhancing public awareness on the issue is one aspect and strict implementation of the rules with exemplary punishment is needed. It may take a little more time, but we should not look back and have to go ahead with positive approach. Many states are already on the move. The municipal bodies are required to organise awareness programmes, and the print and electronic media can help in spreading the messages. The 4Rs of waste management – reduce, reuse, recycle and recover – should be at the top of our agenda to combat plastic menace.
OES is a premier organisation of the state working in field of environment protection. What are your initiatives to make the movement a success?
The OES is actively involved in organising various programmes for environment protection and conservation of natural resources of the state since its inception in 1982. It is spearheading the plastic ban movement by carrying out a number of awareness programmes in educational institutions, especially at various schools in Bhubaneswar. Our views on the issue are also focused in print and electronic media to motivate the people. The OES has also held discussions on the issue with the authorities of Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation.
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