Civil society needs to repeatedly make people aware as well as responsible for their actions. That is where the citizens you and I come in. The best thing which we can do for the environment today is reduce the use of plastics in our lives. India will host the World Environment Day, which has its theme: beat plastic pollution. Let’s hear from Dia Mirza, UN Goodwill Ambassador from India for Environment and Bollywood actor on how there needs to be sustained effort from everybody to save the environment.
Q. What can we do to save the environment and get rid of plastics from our lives?
Dia Mirza: We can start segregating our waste, carrying a cloth bag to buy fruits and vegetables and other supplies. If we start thinking of the things that we buy and consume, whether it is food, drinks, technology or clothes and their impact on the environment then that would be a welcome step. We need to think of it in terms of where it is coming from and where it is going to go. Let’s talk about the effects of packaging. The FMCG sector does a certain kind of packaging which is not sustainable and harms the environment. You and I can make a change by refusing to use those products. We can do it by engaging in public discourse and ensuring that these companies become aware of how irresponsible they are being. Many people think plastic is convenient but convenience is a lie. My driver says it beautifully. He says close down the factories. Why is it manufactured in the first place?
Plastics is getting extremely involved in our lives. Today, you see an invitation card, even that is wrapped in plastic. Any item of consumption is wrapped in plastic. I just have a feeling that we are all going to be drowning and choking in plastic.
Q. Dia Mirza, you are right. There has been a lot of talk about how huge amounts are plastics are finding their way into the marine animals. In fact, thousands and thousands have died due to the plastic pollution of the oceans. What are your views?
Dia Mirza: Not just in the oceans, it is evident even on land. I feel that even in the air due to the plastic that is being burnt in our country. The risk to health the rate of cancer and everything has gone up due to deteriorated air quality. I also feel that because you are burning this path it is coming back into our food chain. You see cows that are operated upon with some 8 kg of plastic recovered from their bellies. It is bound to happen and impact human lives.
Q. How important is recycling and reuse in all this?
Dia Mirza: We are still catching up on many front regarding waste management, although we have an incredible tradition of recycling. A lot of our stuff gets recycled. You must have seen that people in olden days used to barter old utensils and cloths and these traditions still exist. But that is not enough because whether it is the informal sector or people who are the rag pickers who segregate waste for us, the amount of waste disposal is not sufficient.
Q. Do you think we have sufficient waste management systems in place?
One thing is that we need better waste management systems to manage the quantum of waste that we create every day in our country, there are states in the country that don’t even have waste collection systems in place, so that has to change, because when the market opened up, didn’t India quantify the amount of waste that the country would produce. And didn’t they ever consider what would become of that waste. Now we don’t have a choice. We have to because we can’t keep burning plastic.
Solutions exist for remedying the situation and ensuring sustainable development. I know that we can do it and we must as this is the call of the hour. Within the private sector, you have had enterprising individuals who discovered the realities on the ground and came up with innovations and solutions, such as creating the largest amount of solar energy in the world. Solar power is becoming increasingly affordable, something that we could not have imagined till some years back. There was a time when people believed that clean energy would not be affordable. But now it clearly is evident that clean energy can be affordable. And I really think that with the acknowledgement that India needs to work towards sustainable energy goals and it will and it can mobilize a significant change on the ground. And I am sensing that already.