The recent announcement of the ban on disposable plastic bags in the Secunderabad Cantonment Board would have been greeted with much enthusiasm by any environment-conscious person in the SCB jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the ban has not even been well-publicised, let alone enforced.
Plastic bags and disposable utensils accumulating on roads and in drains are a health hazard on many levels – emitting toxins especially when heated; facilitating the proliferation of pests like rats, pigs and flies; clogging drains and contributing to water-logging during the rains; forming a node for stray dogs; seriously damaging the health, and threatening the lives, of cows and dogs who eat them. To compound matters, in contravention of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules established 10 years ago, garbage is still burnt regularly, releasing several toxic compounds into the atmosphere. A socio-economic dimension of this ill is the phasing out of employment and crafts related to reusable and biodegradable bags and containers, such as the manufacture of cloth bags and leaf plates.
We do not have the luxury to be able to wait for the information on the ills of non-biodegradable disposable plastic, from sourcing (fossil fuels), manufacture (energy-intensive), use and disposal (wasteful and toxic) to trickle down to every user, and hope that people move away from disposables out of pure environment-friendliness. An immediate ban on most disposable plastics is vital to public health; this should be supplemented with regulations on the composition and processing of plastics deemed not as harmful. The SCB should enforce the ban and detailed regulations, and the other urban local bodies follow suit without delay. The outlook for the burgeoning population of the twin cities, with grossly inadequate solid waste treatment and disposal facilities, is dismal if citizens and the government do not take concerted, judicious and timely action.