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The fight against single use plastics: Why only a ‘waste to wealth’ approach is sustainable

The fight against single-use plastics: Why only a ‘waste to wealth’ approach is sustainable

The fight against single-use plastics: Why only a ‘waste to wealth’ approach is sustainable
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By Aruna Sharma  Oct 8, 2019 6:25:05 PM IST (Updated)

A town alone generates around 80 tonnes of plastic waste per day and it can be used for construction of roads. Moreover, the use of plastic improves the durability of roads and also saves on cost.

Since 2010, India has been a signatory of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. And to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, the country adopted the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in Paris, which went into force in November 2016. On October 2, 2019, the prime minister of India gave a clarion call towards not using single-use plastics. The paradigm shift from ‘ban’ to that of ‘waste to wealth’ approach is needed as it will add to new livelihood opportunities, enable use of resources that nature has endowed and trigger a growth model that is sustainable. Looking through the climate lens, the need is to have a change in paradigm by not resorting to just a ‘ban agenda’ like ban mining, ban cutting of trees or ban use of plastics, but to develop technologies that ensure effective waste usage and handling as a business model to ensure sustainability.

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Mass movement
Plastics less than 30 microns can be mixed with bitumen, which not only gives a business model of waste disposal but also generates additional employment opportunities. This has been highlighted in the speech of the prime minister. The government’s intention is to create a citizens’ mass movement instead of a legal ban. This right approach to climate and environment issues will address concerns and yet provide new avenues of growth.
If a piecemeal approach is taken to SDG planning and implementation, there is a risk that progress made in one goal area offsets progress in another. An integrated approach could also prove more cost-effective by concentrating time and resources on a set of issues as opposed to a single isolated objective.
Since sustainable consumption and production aim at ‘doing more and better with less’, net welfare gains from economic activities can increase by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole life cycle, while increasing quality of life. There also needs to be significant focus on supply chain, involving everyone from producer to end user. This includes educating consumers on sustainable consumption.
Versatile product
Plastic is a versatile material that can be a valuable asset to green recycling programme. It is versatile, recyclable and reusable. Plastics are often recycled to make items such as clothes, carpet, containers, bottles, plastic lumber, films, grocery bags, moulding materials, and lawn and garden products, and for bitumen top of roads, to name a few. And for every tonne of plastic that’s recycled, reports estimate that seven yards of landfill space is saved. By recycling, one can also help conserve the additional 80 percent of energy that’s typically used when making new plastic bottles, containers and other items instead of recycling. It’s easy to see why plastic recycling is so important. Baled plastics, specifically plastic bottles, have a high scrap value per tonne. In fact, the only other recyclable product that’s more lucrative is aluminum cans. Moreover, sorting and recycling create lots of local employment.
Novel technologies 
The utilisation of refuse in road construction would help cities get rid of plastic waste. “Till 2014-15, 4,535 km of rural roads were made using new technologies like cold-mix and materials which have been developed and patented by Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), waste plastic and fly ash. More jute and coir are being used to make rural roads economical and eco-friendly,” says DG, NRRDA. Presently 15 percent of total rural roads use these new technologies and materials. More than 4,500 km of roads using these technologies were constructed in Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim and West Bengal. Recently IRC released the Rural Road Specification Code, 2014, detailing the use of locally available materials such as jute, coir and waste such as fly ash, plastic rubbish, paper mill sludge and construction and demolition debris in laying rural roads.
A town alone generates around 80 tonnes of plastic waste per day and it can be used for construction of roads. Moreover, the use of plastic improves the durability of roads and also saves on cost, and has better resistance to rain. Dr R Vasudevan, who had developed this process a decade back and now helping MPRRDA in road construction, said, at present, Tamil Nadu is leading in the use of plastic waste in road construction where around 5,000 km of roads have been constructed. States such as Maharashtra, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur and Madhya Pradesh are adopting this technology. He said the use of plastic waste in road construction will help combat pollution, improve road condition and also save foreign exchange used to import bitumen. Government agencies can also earn carbon credits. "We reduce bitumen by around 10 per cent and add that much of plastic waste at the time of mixing," Vasudevan said, adding that plastic waste is first collected, shredded and then mixed. This technology can be effectively used to provide sustainable income. Thus, it is not just plastic being used, but according to experts, use of aggregates and bitumen in such large quantities can do irreparable damage to the environment as they are non-renewable minerals.
Sustainable city life is one of the Global Goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. An integrated approach is crucial for progress across the multiple goals. The climate change and environmental concerns should be addressed on the basis of ‘waste to wealth’ philosophy. This will create job opportunities, income sustainability and infrastructure, and reduce inequity.
Dr Aruna Sharma is a development economist and former secretary to the Government of India
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