Plastic pollution was the theme of last year’s environment day when lot of noise was made by the environmentalists and the political leadership about the dangers emanating from the plastic menace in the country and creating awareness about the problem of plastic pollution. It’s almost one year now since we were taught about the plastic menace and things have become ‘normal’ (as before) now!
Having said that the plastic pollution is real and it’s endangering the flora and fauna. The volume of plastic produced in the world has increased significantly and an increasing amount of plastic litter ends up in waterways and the ocean. Plastic litter is hazardous to the marine environment because plastics are durable, buoyant, waterproof, indigestible, and non-biodegradable. Plastic litter adversely impacts marine life and environment. For example, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had assigned a study to Indian Institute of Toxicological Research (IITR), Lucknow to study “Impact of Plastic Waste Disposal on Soil and Water Quality at Lucknow Dumpsites”. The study report found that the soil and water quality data had revealed the heavy metals, chloride, and phthalates’ migration from plastic waste into the surrounding medium. The leachate can cause considerable pollution problems by contaminating the surrounding soil, ground or surface water. This threat is not restricted just to Lucknow and its surrounding areas but is applicable to the whole country.
According to National Accounts Statistics 2015, brought out by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the average production/consumption of plastic products during the years 2011-12 to 2015-16 was 707 MMT/year with the growth rate of 8.3% per year in chemical and chemical products sector. Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) conducted study in 60 major cities of India. It has been estimated that around 4059 T/day of plastic waste is generated from these cities. Extrapolating this plastic waste generation data from 60 major cities to the entire country, it is estimated that around 25,940 T/day of plastic waste is generated in India.
Plastic has invaded our life and threat of plastic and its pollution is a reality inside our homes too. This invasion happens mainly through the plastic pipes which we use in our buildings for plumbing and sewage purposes. The size of pipes segment is estimated to be around Rs 300 billion of which more than 40% is accounted for by the unorganised sector. Agriculture and construction are the two main user industries of pipes products.
Studies have shown that lead contained in pipes have harmful effect on the human life who use them for water storage and transmission. Almost 70 per cent of the pipes use lead-based stabilisers for manufacturing PVC pipes. While most of the organised manufacturers have started using alternative stabilisers such as zinc in PVC pipe-making, some of the small units still rely on lead due to the cost factor.
In April, the National Green Tribunal directed the government to come out with guidelines to phase out use of lead as stabiliser in Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) pipes which are commonly used in most buildings. It may be noted that North America has stopped using lead as a stabiliser in PVC in long back. In Europe, manufacturers stopped using lead in PVC in 2015 due to its possible harmful effects.
Lead is the oldest known heat stabilizer to be used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes. At the same time lead is considered to be a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems. It’s proved on many occasions that lead ingestion can cause metal to be accumulated in the human body – leading to permanent adverse health effects in the brain, nervous system, liver and bone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), no known levels of lead exposure are considered safe. According to the findings of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), in 2016, lead exposure accounted for 63.8 per cent of the global burden of idiopathic developmental intellectual disability, 3 per cent of the global burden of ischaemic heart disease and 3.1 per cent of the global burden of strokes.
While most of the players in organised players have already started adhering to the new directive, manufacturers in the unorganised segment are still hesitant to shift to lead free pipes manufacturing due to cost considerations. Using lead free stabilisers will increase the cost of the product by 3-5%. However, market share of unorganised players is slowly reducing over the years which is a welcome sign from the point of view of quality of the products. For example, in 2012, organised players had market share of 45% which they were able to increase to 56% in 2017. Now a days consumers prefer to buy products from organised players due to growing brand awareness, rapid growth of organised retail in recent years and ability of the organised players to provide much superior products in terms of quality and performance. Recent reforms measures taken by the government in indirect taxation may further add to the pace of fomalisation of the market. Meanwhile, we, as consumers, too have a responsibility to promote the usage of lead free pipes in the country by opting for lead free PVC pipes. After all the problem of this magnitude cannot be tackled by the government alone and public participation is a must.