India’s Prime Minister Modi vows elimination of all single-use plastics by 2022

trash scavengers in IndiaThe war on plastics has reached India. Prime Minister Narenda Modi recently announced plans to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country, which has a population of 1.3 billion people, by 2022. 

Right! And I’m planning a vacation on Mars by 2022. 

India is a complex nation comprised of the best of everything and the worst of everything. India is home to some of the brightest and best engineers, doctors and scientists. It has a huge manufacturing sector, including a plastics industry, that exports products globally. U.S.-based Fortune 500 companies have manufacturing plants throughout India that offer many Indians opportunities they might not have otherwise.

On the flip side is the caste system, which has broken down somewhat over the past few decades but remains in place in many parts of India. The caste system includes people on the bottom rung of the ladder—the dalit or “untouchables”—who have the jobs that others won’t do and typically involves the dirtiest and nastiest work.

It’s sad and is something that Westerners can’t quite comprehend, but once a dalit, always a dalit, even if they are fortunate enough to have a master’s degree or PhD. The caste system says it doesn’t matter. Your life’s destiny is to remain in the caste into which you were born, and, thus, these people are discriminated against even if they are well educated.  Therefore, jobs are limited to those approved of by the system, explained an Aug. 15, 2016, article in the Guardian by Mari Marcel Thekaekara, who knows of these things.  

All of this in spite of a growing middle class thanks to U.S.-based companies that hire based on ability and talent—not caste—which has created many problems in India. I recall an article several years ago that told of the plight of an “untouchable” family whose members had been able to secure jobs at a large telemarketing company. They became quite well off and purchased a home in their village. Trouble came when they were asked to clean the community’s sewer system and the family refused, something that is not permitted—you must do what you are asked. The village leaders proceeded to kill the family members and throw their bodies into the nearby river. Going outside your caste can have tragic consequences.

An AP article by Rishabh R. Jain, “In India, A Trio of Unlikely Heroes Wages War on Plastic,” tells of a man, Ram Nath, who has “lived on the banks of the Yamuna River (near New Delhi) under a 19th century iron bridge. Each morning, the wiry man walks a few steps from his makeshift hut and enters the black, sludgy waters of one of India’s most polluted rivers. He is fishing for trash.”

Ram Nath is 40 years old, and he tells the author of the article that it “is the only work we have.” He sorts through piles of plastic bottles as well as other trash that floats in the river, “making $2 to $4 per day recycling plastic waste collected from the river. “ 

On June 5, India hosted U.N. World Environment Day with the theme of “Beat Plastic Pollution.” New Delhi, a city with 15 million people, has plenty of plastic trash to go around. Bag bans imposed on retail shops in New Delhi have been repeatedly tried to no avail. “The latest regulation came with a hefty $75 fine,” wrote Jain. “Yet a trip to nearly any shop in New Delhi makes clear how widely the ban is flouted.”

I guess the point of all of this is that there must be better ways to handle the estimated 17,000 tons of trash that New Delhi and surrounding cities produce daily. For instance, instead of creating literal mountains of trash of all types, why not build a waste-to-energy plant? I’m sure New Delhi can use the energy and it sounds as if there is enough trash to support a waste-to-energy plant.

Perhaps a plastic-to-oil facility could be built by one of the U.S. companies that has developed that technology and could pay people to bring in their plastic bottles and bags and other plastics.

We know bans do not work.

There are plenty of people who need the money, and if single-use plastic bottles and food containers and other items are eliminated, where will the garbage pickers get the plastic scrap they need to sell to make a few dollars? Eliminating plastic waste in some developing countries means eliminating jobs—as menial as they may be—for a group of people who really need to collect the plastic trash to earn a living.

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