BY ASAVARI KULKARNI
A look at the plastic waste strewn around in the fields, forests, streams, hills, rivers and roadsides, casts doubt on Goa's willingness to fight the menace. It will be hard to take the exact count of the plastic waste in the State, but the problem is certainly growing relentlessly.
Goa has been at the forefront of prohibiting plastics smaller than 40 microns or single-use plastics, but the action looks good on paper rather than on the ground.
Many questions arise at this juncture as plastic continues to overwhelm the State's environs. One is, do citizens uphold their legal obligations against the use of plastics banned in law? Look around and one will see public locations, tourist destinations, colonies, highways, rivers and beaches are all inundated with rubbish – the majority of which is single-use plastics.
This year's World Environment Day is being observed throughout the world with the theme 'Solutions to plastic pollution' as part of the campaign #beattheplasticpollution. This is most likely the first time a World Environment Day theme has been repeated.
According to the United Nations (UN), over 400 million tonnes of plastic are created each year, nearly half is single-use plastic, which eventually ends up clogging our rivers, mountains and seas.
New research reveals that microplastics have already entered human bloodstreams through inhalation, contaminated food and water. In this context, the United Nations enacted a resolution on March 2, 2022, to find a solution to the plastic problem. Eventually, about 170 nations have been discussing plastic reduction and solutions in a historic global convention on plastic pollution, which is currently ongoing in Paris.
Despite strict laws and substantial fines enforced by regulatory agencies, this tourism state discharges almost 8 metric tonnes of plastic debris into the ocean annually. According to Outlook Planet, Goa’s per capita plastic trash creation is 8 times greater than the national average, at 61.2 g per person per day.
Goa has two solid waste management facilities located in the villages of Saligao and Cacora. Many gram panchayats effectively collect garbage door to door and transport it to these SWM facilities for disposal. While rubbish is collected in towns and villages, collectors disregard public locations, ancient sites, mangrove forests, rivers and forest regions.
Speaking to Gomantak Times digital, Chandrakant Shinde, the President of the Vivekanand Environment Brigade, said his volunteers gather plastic debris from forest regions and river banks every year. This year’s collection drive at Mhovacho Guno, on the banks of River Mhadei, in the village of Sonal, resulted in the collection of 50 bags full of garbage, which mainly included plastic waste and glass bottles.
People coming for picnics and recreation leave their trash in these regions which eventually finds its way into waterways. People must be more aware of their duty towards the environment and act wisely, he urges.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Shraddha Rangnekar, an environmentalist and the organiser of the 'Sort small to make a big difference' plastic collection drive, stated that she has been collecting waste for the past year and a half, but laments "people are so lazy that they refuse to accept responsibility for the waste they create and continue to blame the municipality for plastic pollution."
She also said that all animal sanctuaries and heritage sites be designated as no-plastic zones to prevent trash in forest regions.
Tourists visiting Goa to enjoy its beaches and natural beauty frequently disregard the plastic-free boards and rubbish disposal facilities given at such locations. Jay Bahadur Thapa, a security guard at Dona Paula Jetty, says that individuals ignore his warnings to refrain from throwing plastic. Because such directives frequently lead to fights among young groups, he has no choice except to remain silent.
YOUNGSTERS THE HOPE
Vitthal Shelke, the winner of this year's Goa State Biodiversity Conservation Award 2023 (Biodiversity Enthusiast category), claims that the younger generation is far more responsible than the elders when it comes to obeying laws and regulations.
His students participate actively in waste collection drives. As a teacher, he also feels that awareness campaigns should be conducted at the school level itself to inculcate environmental responsibilities in young minds.
Nandini Kulkarni, a social activist from Honda village, expresses her heartbreak at seeing people polluting forest regions. They come to enjoy these sites, but, sadly, leave behind trash that pollutes waterways and vital ecosystems in forest regions. "Hinterland tourism should be regulated to minimise similar disruptions in sensitive forest regions," she suggests.
Locals in these areas are sometimes unable to prevent tourists from trashing river beds and woodlands. Rama Gaonkar of Sonal village informs that they have prohibited tourists from entering the Mhovacho Guno region due to plastic pollution.
However, a section of locals with opposing views wanted it to continue since they were profiting from the tourists. He suggested that the government deploy some security personnel and place signboards to prevent littering of river banks and forests.
Combating plastic pollution requires a warlike approach. The only way out of this is to use less plastic or to refuse to use plastic completely.
NEED FOR ALTERNATIVES
Subhash Volvoikar, a hotel owner from Sattari, believes that manufacturing should be prohibited to decrease plastic pollution. People will turn to alternative solutions if there is no plastic available in the market.
Shubhada Chari, an environmentalist, says optimistically that if one is dedicated, living a plastic-free life is possible. She has been using cloth bags for purchases, a steel tiffin to transport food from restaurants, leaf wrapping for purchasing fish from the market and carries her own steel straw in her purse.
She claims that by taking these modest actions, she is not only reducing her use of plastic but also leaving a more sustainable legacy.
It’s not too late to combat the world's plastic pollution. Every human should use caution and avoid using plastic and, at the same time, develop alternatives to plastic. Otherwise, the demon of plastic will surely suffocate the Earth, speeding up doomsday on this planet we call home.
(The writer is an environmental enthusiast, who writes on topics related to biodiversity, environmental conservation and ecology)