In Lucknow’s story on the waste side, the danger of plastic paints a bleak picture

The plastic menace is a colossal problem looming over Lucknow, challenging the ban on single-use plastics and posing a serious health hazard as modernization and consumerism disrupt the environmental balance.

The Chowk Nala area, which lies behind the famous Bada Imambara, is covered in plastic (Deepak Gupta/Hindutan Times)

Nearly 300 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day by households and commercial establishments in Lucknow, out of the total 1,500 tonnes of solid waste per day. In other words, plastic constitutes 20% of the daily waste in the state capital.

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Plastic use has risen from 59 tonnes in 2015 to 300 tonnes per day now, environmentalists say.

A 2015 study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on the impact of plastic waste disposal at landfills in Lucknow found that post-monsoon soil samples from landfills were more basic (alkaline) than those from the pre-monsoon period, which indicates an increase in alkalinity due to accumulated plastic waste.

The high plastic content in the dumped waste and low infiltration capacity of hard soil caused waterlogging, further affecting the quality of soil, a CPCB official said.

“The study also found that the availability of phosphorus and potassium was higher in control soil samples than in those from the landfills, indicating that the nutritional quality of soil has declined due to the decomposition of plastic waste over the past decade. Also, the heavy metals and phthalates in the underground water of the landfill indicated that harmful substances were leaching into the soil and water supply,” the official said.

These findings raise concerns about the long-term effects of plastic waste on the environment.

Because plastic does not biodegrade but breaks down into microparticles, it poses a serious threat to nature and human health.

Studies have linked plastic pollution to several health problems, including cancer, hormone disruption and heart damage. Additionally, plastic waste has been found in the blood of newborn babies, highlighting the pervasiveness of plastic pollution in the environment.

“The theme for World Earth Day 2024, ‘Planet vs Plastics’, underlines the urgency of tackling plastic pollution. It calls for action to combat plastic waste and its harmful effects on the environment and human health,” said Venkatesh Dutta, professor of environmental science at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (SEES), Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University.

“With the increase in urban population, we need to take initiatives to protect the environment; a multifaceted approach is needed. This includes stricter enforcement of plastic bans, greater public awareness and a greater emphasis on reducing, reusing and recycling plastic waste. Ultimately, addressing this environmental crisis requires collective action from governments, companies and individuals alike,” he said.

Environmentalist Anuradha Gupta of Prithvi Innovations said, “The plastic problem is much bigger than it seems. Residents are not given an alternative to plastic. In 2019, India consumed approximately 20 million tons of plastic materials. In 2018, the Indian government pledged to ban all single-use plastics by 2022. But the decision is yet to be implemented in its true spirit. We must continue to focus on solutions to the problem.”

“It is also incumbent on residents to understand the magnitude of the problem and avoid the use of single-use plastics,” she said.

Environmental engineer Sanjeev Pradhan of Lucknow Muncipal Corporation said, “We are working towards making Lucknow plastic-free. Last year, we recovered more than 50 tonnes of plastic during several raids against polyethylene in the city.”

“Plastic is collected at the collection point by waste recyclers. A number of recyclers also collect the plastic from the Shivri factory. And then the factory staff removes plastic from (other) waste because this plastic would be used for road construction,” he added.