India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the 14th Conference of Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on Monday.

Modi stated the “time has come for the world to say goodbye” to single-use plastic, calling on world leaders to follow India’s lead in banning the plastic.

“My Government has announced that India will put an end to single-use plastic in the coming years,” Modi said.

As India gears up to take over the presidency of the CoP, the prime minister said the country “looks forward to making an effective contribution.”

During an Independence Day speech given on August 15, Modi urged citizens and government agencies to “take the first big step” in eliminating single use plastics in India. Taking the lead in efforts to eliminate single-use plastics by 2022, the prime minister announced a ban on six items, plastic bags, straws, cups, plates, small bottles and some sachets, starting on October 2 of this year, the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth.

 “The ban will be comprehensive and will cover manufacturing, usage and import of such items,” an anonymous official said.

The ban is anticipated to cut India’s annual plastic use and waste by five percent. Current consumption is estimated at approximately about 14 million tonnes, over 30 billion pounds.

Urging world leaders to follow India’s example, Modi’s announcement comes at a time where global concern around plastic pollution is growing fast.

India, plagued by a trash epidemic for decades, suffer under the potentially toxic weight of single use plastic. According to the Economic Times, the problem is an “all-too familiar sight: an unofficial landfill spread out over an acre and rising several metres high, its base strewn with recently-discarded plastic cups, polybags, wrappers, packaging material and other detritus of our daily lives. This plastic pile, like other similar piles lying by our roadsides or accumulating in empty lots or choking up water bodies.”

Apart from single-use and other plastics creating large unpleasant piles, a new study published in Science of The Total Environment last week says the plastic is taking the form and shape of pebbles, almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Gregory Wetherbee, a US Geological Survey researcher, found multi-coloured microscopic plastic fibres in rainwater earlier this year. The number of this type of discoveries are on the increase with a multitude of headlines highlighting the plight of marine animals and birds. Washed up on beaches and floating in the oceans, these animals are found injured or dead, entangled, strangled or suffocated by plastic waste or starving due to their stomachs being filled with plastic waste.

Modi also took the opportunity to discuss India’s attempts to combating land desertification and water scarcity, saying:

“Between 2015 and 2017, India’s tree and forest cover increased by 0.8 million hectares. When we address degraded lands, we also address water scarcity. We have created ‘Jal Shakti Ministry’ to address important water-related issues.”

However, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, claims there is no upcoming ban on single-use plastic expected in India, as reported by Hindu Times.

Javadekar, at a conference on Monday, clarified that the prime minister did not say “ban” but rather said “goodbye” to single-use plastic, and starting on October 2, India “will begin an attempt to collect all that waste. Nearly 10,000 tonnes of plastic waste remains uncollected.”

According to the Hindu Times, although several of India’s states currently have laws dealing with single-use plastic they are not enforced, partly because of the costs involved in collecting and recycling the waste.

Former Environment Minister and current Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, said on World Environment Day last year:

“We make a solemn pledge that by 2022, we shall eliminate all single-use plastic from our beautiful country. Our beloved Prime Minister Shri Modi ji has envisioned a new India by 2022—an India of our dreams which shall be clean, poverty-free, corruption-free, terrorism-free, casteism-free … and most of all … which will be a global superpower. This India of our dreams shall also be single-use plastic free.” 

At the United Nations Environment Assembly in March, India argued for a resolution to phase-out single-use plastic worldwide by 2025. According to The Guardian, environmental groups accused the US of blocking this and other ambitious global goals at the conference in Kenya, resulting in a watered down final statement phrasing of “significantly reducing single-use plastic by 2030.”

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