The Indian government has pledged to ban all single-use plastics by 2022, in a move which has been welcomed by both the United Nations and grassroots groups.
The UN environment agency described the policy as “unprecedented”. It was announced during a World Environment Day summit hosted by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.
India was providing “global leadership” where the rest of the world was falling short, said UN Environment chief Erik Solheim. A new report from the agency highlighted more than 50 nations taking some action to tackle plastics, but added that much more needed to be done.
In some countries – India among them – rules exist but are not always enforced. In others, pledges have been criticised for not going far enough. Theresa May declared earlier this year that the UK would eliminate avoidable plastic waste – where it is “economically practical” to do so – by 2042.
Harsh Vardhan, the Indian environment minister, used the summit in New Delhi to announce “on a personal front” that he would give up single-use plastic in his own daily life.
And speaking for the government, he said: “On this historic occasion we make a solemn pledge that by 2022 we shall eliminate all single-use plastics from our beautiful country.” He described the policy as part of Mr Modi’s vision to create the “India of our dreams”.
India’s 1.3 billion population currently produces 25,000 metric tons of plastic per day. The government claims that around 60 per cent of that is recycled, but civil society groups put the figure closer to 40 per cent.
“The choices that we make today will define our collective future,” Mr Modi told the summit.
“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.”
Plastic pollution blights India’s cities and towns, but also key tourist attractions, historic landmarks and coastal resorts. Mr Modi announced that 100 national monuments – including the Taj Mahal – would be made litter-free.
And he also used World Environment Day to announce that India would be joining the UN’s Clean Seas campaign, which will establish programmes to monitor and tackle pollution along the country’s 7,500km coastline.
Achieving zero single-use plastics by 2022 may actually be more achievable than it first appears. Both Mr Solheim and Mr Vardhan noted that India has “a long history of sustainable lifestyles”.
The pledge is also seen as referring to evidently wasteful items such as plastic straws, cutlery and ultra-thin bags, all of which have established sustainable alternatives.
It is not seen as including so-called “multi-layered packaging” – things like chocolate bar wrappers and crisp packets, which use plastic in tandem with other materials and which are much more difficult to replace.
Nonetheless, the pledge was welcomed by Chintan, a Delhi-based NGO fighting for sustainable consumption. Rajat Rai Handa, the group’s advocacy manager, told The Independent it was “ambitious… but I would not say impossible”.
“It will be very difficult [to phase out single-use plastics], but if everyone works together we hope it can be made a reality,” he said.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies