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For A Plastic-Free Goa

Government must provide Goans with biodegradable alternatives to plastics

GOA has banned use of single-use plastics. It is a ban without a wide range of satisfactory alternatives, which clearly means that people would be compelled to violate the ban, no matter how agreeing they are with the government’s objective of replacing plastics with biodegradable materials in manufacture and packaging. We have got so used to plastics in the past several decades that we would not find it easy to get rid of it unless alternatives are available in plenty and at affordable prices. Plastics are all around us – in tea bags, coffee cups, toothbrushes, milk bottles, water bottles, in plastic chairs, in textiles, in pots and pans in kitchens, in cars, trains and planes and in the bags the readymade stores, the groceries, the fishmonger and the butcher give to customers.

However, every Goan must support the ban, even though there are no clear alternatives available to them as of now in sufficient quantity and at affordable prices. Plastics have emerged as a major threat to human life. This is because plastics are not biodegradable—that is, unlike wood, cotton or paper, when they are thrown away as waste they are not decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms, and thus remain in soil or water. By resisting decomposition they rupture the processes by which various forms of animal and plant life keep regenerating themselves. If plastics are accumulated in water, they ruin marine life. If they remain in soil, they ruin natural nutrition affecting productivity.  Studies have found that 90 per cent of plastic used in various countries of the world has been dumped as waste and is hence continuing to spread its ruinous effect through soil and water. In India, owing to poorer environment literacy, the situation has turned out to be worse. In the western countries institutions have been attempting, though not with much success, recycling of plastics, but in India recycling has not been tried on a major scale yet.      

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has assured Goans his government would not first use punitive measures but prefer to try the awareness route to replace plastics. As far as awareness is concerned, Goa has an educated population, and people do not lack in awareness that plastics are a bad thing to use. They would be happy using biodegradable alternatives for packaging and carrying things they buy from the market. The Chief Minister has to appreciate that the problem is not lack of awareness among Goans but lack of biodegradable alternatives. If the Goa government really wants the state to be the first to be plastic-free, they should set up four action committees comprising of senior officers for achieving the objective.

The first committee should gather information and identify the manufacturers of biodegradable alternatives in India and abroad. There are many innovative businessmen that are using different processes and substances to produce alternatives to plastics. The committee of officers should visit the countries or states where their biodegradable packaging goods have been in use and collect the feedback from the local governments and users. After studies that might take them say, six months, they should submit their recommendations to the government, incorporating the affordable and implementable choices Goa can have. The state government might approve two or three or more producers or suppliers of biodegradable alternatives. There should be a second committee to take the work of the mission here on. Their task would be actually making the alternatives available to people. As we are living in an era of free enterprise, that committee would have to identify and support traders in Goa who would be partners of the national or international manufacturers/ suppliers of biodegradable alternatives.

There should be a third committee of officers that must explore how Goans can be encouraged to set up small and home-based businesses to produce plastic alternatives. Tibetans mould areca palm leaves into many shapes, including soap case. Even prawn and crab shells can be moulded into various shapes. Bagasse, the pulp waste from the sugarcane juice extraction process, can be easily moulded into many packaging shapes. The fourth committee should focus on helping people find their own alternatives, such as not having water from plastic bottles but from glasses.

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