#WorldEnvironmentDay# What’s different?


World Environment Day comes and goes. Pledges are made to the earth that we will be better and more responsible citizens but it ends there. Between words and actions is a huge gap. This year’s theme for observing World Environment Day is “Beat Plastic Pollution.” Humans have short memories, else this is not the first time that the slogan Beat Plastic Pollution was coined. The same slogan was used by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) way back in 2018 but nothing has changed. Studies galore have pointed to the fact that plastic use has not reduced. In the past as many as 25 states had banned plastic with some form of state notification within their own jurisdictions. In Meghalaya, the first ban on plastics dates back to 1998. But all these bans had a very limited impact on the ground. The ban on plastics is defeated by relaxing norms of micron thickness used. Plastic producing mercenaries know how to get around these compliances. Currently in India only 10% or 20% of plastic items are banned and packaging material is still untouched. Every item bought whether food, clothes and other utilities are plastic wrapped.
The UNEP states that there are many small things that individuals can do on a day-to-day basis to stop plastic pollution and lists 8 of them. Among these 8 the UNEP points to rivers as being the direct pathways of plastic debris which ultimately lands up into the ocean. The UNEP urges people to help join a river clean-up group and benefit the ecosystem. But this too is easier said than done. Some groups in Shillong have been cleaning rivers since 2019 at least twice a month. Their concern is that people residing nearest to the rivers and in fact building on rivers are the biggest polluters but they never ever join river clean-ups. The bulk of garbage in rivers is inevitable plastics but they also include huge chunks of plastic bottles. Hotels and restaurants should take the lead by providing water dispensers and glasses instead of adding tons of plastic bottles which may be recycled but which leave behind micro plastic residues that are ingested by humans and animals.
India and the State of Meghalaya has invested a phenomenal sum in awareness campaigns but the results are abysmal. A time has come for the state to use its penal powers against polluters in the “Polluter pays principle.” It is also important to ramp up the waste collection and management systems not just in the state capital and district headquarters but also in the rural hamlets where plastic pollution is gaining momentum. World Environment Day has to go beyond the June 5 symbolic observation. The school syllabus must include field work for students where they adopt a river and clean it regularly apart from also making all educational institutions plastic free zones. Children need to learn to care for the environment too.