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India Announces 'Game-Changing' Single-Use Plastics Ban

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Plastic pollution on a beach in Goa, India. Hajj0 ms / CC BY-SA 3.0

India turned their hosting of this year's World Environment Day into far more than a symbolic act when it announced plans Tuesday to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, UN Environment reported.

The theme of this year's World Environment Day was "Beat Plastic Pollution," and India's decision could be a "game-changing" part of that effort, since it is home to 1.3 billion people and is one of the world's fastest-growing economies, head of U.N. Environment news and media Keith Weller told CBS.


"This has been the biggest, most resonant World Environment Day ever, thanks to the leadership of our global host India," Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said in the press release. "India has made a phenomenal commitment and displayed clear, decisive and global environmental leadership. This will inspire the world and ignite real change."

The announcement was officially made by Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Dr. Harsh Vardhan, who touted it as a way to "achieve the India of our dreams."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also spoke on the importance of combining economic growth with environmental action.

"It is the duty of each one of us, to ensure that the quest for material prosperity does not compromise our environment," Modi said. "The choices that we make today, will define our collective future. The choices may not be easy. But through awareness, technology, and a genuine global partnership, I am sure we can make the right choices. Let us all join together to beat plastic pollution and make this planet a better place to live."

In addition to the plastics phase-out, the country also joined UN Environment's Clean Seas campaign. India will develop action plans to combat marine litter at the national and regional level and measure the total amount of plastic pollution in the waters off of India's 7,500 kilometers (approximately 4660 miles) of coastline.

Plastic pollution is a major problem in India, which generates 25,000 tonnes (approximately 27557.78 U.S. tons) of plastic waste every year and only recycles 60 percent of it, Vardhan said in an IANS article reprinted by the Economic Times Tuesday.

It is also an increasingly visible problem, as plastic increasingly clutters the country's landscape and beaches. "There is a huge issue of waste management in India and everyone can see that; we went from train to Agra from Delhi and we saw. There was plastic all over the rails, that's a problem," Solheim told IANS.

India has taken some steps to counter plastic pollution already on a national and regional level. It banned non-compostable plastic bags in 2016, CBS reported.

According to a UN plastics report also launched Tuesday, regional bans have had various success. Of the 10 regional bans listed in the report, two bans, in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim, have seen significant to moderate results, while four bans, including one in New Delhi have had little to no impact, and four could not be assessed due to limited data.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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