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Disposable Plastics Outlawed in One of the World's Most Populous Regions

Climate

Did you know that nearly a month, India's National Capital Region—a massive swath of land that includes the nation's capital territory, Delhi—outlawed disposable plastic? On Jan. 1, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) enacted a ban on one-time use items such as plastic grocery bags and cups for the region's 54 million inhabitants, the world's second largest urban agglomeration.

The initiative puts America's local and state plastic bag bans to shame, not to mention our bans on plastic bag bans.

The Delhi government was ordered to "take steps for storage and use of plastic materials with effect from January 1, 2017."

As Fast Company reports, three waste-to-energy plants in Delhi were singled out for the air pollution they caused from burning plastic waste:

"Delhi's three main trash dumps—Okhla, Gazipur and Bhalswa—are 'a depiction of mess that can be created for environment and health of people of Delhi,' said India's National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairperson Swatanter Kumar at the tribunal.

"Delhi uses waste-to-energy plants to produce electricity, and when those plants burn plastic waste, they spew pollution into the air. And if it isn't burned, the plastic ends up clogging the Yamuna, the second largest tributary river of the Ganges."

The plants will be fined around $7,300 for each act of non-compliance.

Many have questioned how easy it will be to enforce such an order. Shopkeepers and street vendors found themselves unprepared and even unaware of the ban.

"Instead of targeting us, the authorities should stop the factories that make these items," an unnamed stationery shop owner in Meherchand Market told The Hindu. "We have already started keeping cloth bags instead of plastic ones, but we haven't been able to fully stop using plastic as customers ask for it."

Environmentalists, however, have applauded the ban.

"These plastic materials end up clogging drains and some make their way into the Yamuna. There are several studies that prove how dangerous this is. The order of the NGT was much needed, but its implementation will be key," forestry and wildlife expert Manoj Misra told the same publication.

India's latest plastic ban cannot come soon enough. A 2015 study ranked India as the 12th biggest plastic polluter in the world, but expected it to bump up to No. 5 as its economy grows.

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The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

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"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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