The devastation to Kashmir’s fragile eco-system can reduce hugely if there is an alternative to the abundant plastic carry-bag, reports Insha Shirazi
People hawking Kashmir to the non-locals have often repeated the Persian saying: “If there is a paradise on earth it is this, it is this, it is this.” This quotation supposedly intended for Kashmir, is not befitting of the contemporary Valley.
Srinagar was dirty because of the poorest sanitation and municipal affairs in the ninetieth and most of the twentieth century. Now it is reduced to a plastic city. On daily basis, Srinagar produces 520 metric tonnes of garbage of which almost forty per cent is non-biodegradable plastic waste. It is not a very different situation in the periphery either.
Jammu and Kashmir generate the eighth-highest amount of plastic garbage per person among India’s states and union territories, according to the annual report 2019–20 on the implementation of plastic waste management legislation. Jammu and Kashmir’s monthly progress report for January 2021 states that 6200 metric tonnes of plastic garbage is produced every month.
The trend has serious consequences. The breath-taking environment of lakes and mountain resorts, the main bread and butter of Kashmir tourism, is now in danger due to poor waste management procedures. Aquatic ecosystems are fatally harmed by plastic garbage (polythene, wrappers, and plastic bottles).
Researchers estimate that Dal lake, the iconic lake in Kashmir, receives 25 tonnes of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer and 18.2 tonnes of phosphorous fertilizer from 15 major drains. Again, the water’s colour has changed from bluish green to hazel, which has a negative impact on the lake’s view and allure. Because of the reduction of dissolved oxygen, the lake’s aquatic life is at risk.
Plastics, like water, move around. As the rains drain into Jhelum, the only major river in Kashmir, the entire non-biodegradable waste, reached Wullar Lake, a Ramsar site and Kashmir’s only freshwater lake. It is literally inundated with the plastics that various families collect to make a living!
Plastic trash is a major crisis. It refers to a variety of synthetic or semi-synthetic organic amorphous solid materials made from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas. It is now in everything that like is all around – packaging in medicines, foods, electronics, and computers. Polythene carry-bags are basic to retail now. These have a large negative impact on the ecosystem because they rarely decompose. It reduces soil fertility and causes harmful compounds to leach into the ground. Most of the clogging in drains is because of plastic. During the 2014 floods, the plastic bags were so huge that the water currents tied them to the barbed wires surrounding orchards and it changed the course of the direction of the floods.
In exceptional cases, when the polythene bags’ is burned, they release dangerous chemicals into the atmosphere and cause air pollution.
Off late, the domestic animals are taking the brunt of this human abuse. Mistaking the bags for food, they consume and it triggers starvation, choking laceration, and infection. In certain cases, these animals land in veterinary surgery centres.
The Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board Committee (JKPCC) issued a public notice on June 30, banning the production, distribution, and sale of single-use plastic. This was a follow-up to the regulations for plastic garbage, which were set forth by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate.
“In 2016, some guidelines for the handling of plastic garbage were issued,” Dr Sabeena Sultan, who is in charge of managing plastic trash in Jammu and Kashmir at the Board, said. “Eventually, the ministry adopted changes against single-use plastic in 2016, 2018, 2021, and 2022. From July 1, 2022, all single-use plastics were categorically prohibited in Kashmir. We also have our state-specific regulations and revisions for single-use plastic.”
Under the rules in vogue since July 2022, earbuds with plastic sticks, candy sticks, disposable spoons, forks frequently used in wedding ceremonies, ice cream sticks, knives, straws, trays, wrapping films around sweet boxes, and thermocol for decorating are banned.
All plastic objects, including water bottles, were banned in all official buildings in Kashmir. “The amendment was also issued on February 16, 2022, banning things like packing films surrounding cigarette packets, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) banners smaller than 100 microns, candy sticks, plates, and mugs,” she added.
The single-use plastic weekly data that the Board seized in a week between August 28 and September 3, 2022, included 45.65 kg of single-use plastic and 46.80 kg of polythene.
“If any shopkeeper, local vendor, or other person is found to be using single-use plastic, there will be a penalty charge of Rs 35100,” she said, insisting on how they have been running campaigns against the use of plastic in schools and other sections of society.
The quantity of plastic garbage in Kashmir has decreased, Dr Sabeena claimed. Against a production of 31373.7560 metric tons in 2021, only 182391 metric tons was produced in 2022.
The people who are sensitive toward the use of plastics on a grand scale assert that the authorities need to go for a high-decibel communication offensive. How many people know that the plastic material in carrying hot edibles leads to the migration of dangerous chemicals into food? These chemicals eventually cause diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease.
Though the science is at work to see how polythene can be made to degrade and how alternative polythene can be created, which is biodegradable, the consumer still requires an alternative to plastic packaging.
In between the demand and a restriction, the retailer says he can be an easy casualty. “If we deny a polythene bag, the consumer goes away,” one shopkeeper in Srinagar said. “If we use the polyethene publicly, we have to pay a penalty from our nose.” That essentially means the market appetite for an alternative on a sustainable basis. Paper bags lack durability. Jute bags are expensive.