Microplastics in Ganga

Microplastics in Ganga

  • The Ganga might have stood witness to many stages of India’s civilisation, but in recent decades it has become a conduit for sewage, solid waste, industrial effluents and other pollutants.

Concentration of microplastics

  • A new study by an NGO has found evidence of a modern-day scourge, microplastics, in the river, with the highest concentrations in Varanasi and Kanpur, followed by Haridwar.
  • The data show is the alarming presence of plastic filaments, fibres, fragments, and in two places, microbeads, with their composition pointing to both industrial and secondary broken-down plastics from articles of everyday use.
  • These range from tyres, clothing, food packaging, bags, cosmetics with microbeads, garland covers and other municipal waste.

Implementation not effective

  • The finding of significant levels of microscopic particles invisible to the naked eye at below 300 micrometres to 5 millimetres in the country’s holiest river calls into question the progress of two high-priority, well-funded missions of the NDA government, Swachh Bharat, to deal with solid waste, and Namami Gange, to rid the river of its pollution.
  • Surprisingly, Prime’s support for the river clean-up, originally scheduled to be implemented by December 2020, has not saved it from serious deficits; official data indicate that 97 Ganga towns may be discharging about 750 million litres of untreated sewage a day into the river.

Microplastics in remote areas

  • Microplastics, recorded in recent times in the remotest of places — Mount Everest, Arctic snow, Icelandic glaciers, the French Pyrenees, and the depths of the Mariana Trench, among others — pose a hazard as plastics production outpaces the ability of governments to collect and manage waste.

Lack of implementation

  • Successive governments issued waste management rules, but dropped the ball on implementation.
  • Although the Centre recently issued a draft to tighten the Plastic Waste Management Rules, cities have failed to implement existing rules as well as the Solid Waste Management rules, on ending single-use plastics, waste segregation, recycling labels on packaging, extended producer responsibility for manufacturers and recovery of materials.
  • Moreover, growing plastic waste will far exceed the capacity of governments to manage it, given that recycling has its limits.
  • Swachh Bharat, therefore, must mean not merely keeping waste out of sight, achieved through costly dumping contracts, but sharply reduced generation, full segregation and recycling.

Threatening to food web

  • Plastic waste around the world is threatening the food web and the crisis demands a new global treaty modelled on the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Agreement. India needs to demonstrate that it is serious about a clean-up at home.