Coronavirus is the world’s number one concern right now, and rightly so. There’s news that the vaccines are on the way and the speculation is that, though not completely, nearly all traces of the virus will be eradicated if the (working) vaccines are put to work.

There is also speculation that the vaccines will be capitalized because that is how the world works. ‘It’s Official! Curing diseases is bad for business’ an article by Milton Packer MD on the MedPage Today headlined.

The problem with one-shot cures, according to the investigation on it showed that the decrease in the pool of treatable patients caused an imbalance in the capital model, either locally or globally.

The year 2020 is undoubtedly been a year of utter distress for all the generation, from Traditionalists to Boomers, to Gen X to Millennials to Gen Z alike. What has been positive is the realization that people are in the end, people. The human temperament of empathy prevails.

Though the world has seemingly lost its way due to the insatiable desires of pride, greed and gluttony, according to different gurus spiritual or otherwise, there are acts of utter empathy that are practised and shows the world the better side of humans. 

The world isn’t just plagued with coronavirus – other problems will prevail even if the virus is eradicated and the biggest is the ongoing environmental crisis that humans are aiding and abetting in, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Most of it is because of the indifference of the people who are running big companies that exploit the environment though industrial farming/mining/fishing/plastic production. These activities have plagued nature.

Just like the coronavirus attacks the human respiratory system, humans attack the Earth’s ecosystem and both the viruses make it difficult for the host life to breathe and ultimately causes either’s demise. 

When it comes to accountability, it is not just the big companies and governments that should be held accountable when it comes to the environmental crisis. The supply and production are only there because it matches the demands. An average human should be held accountable as well for all they consume and all that the human wastes. 

Waste production and management is the biggest concern of the 21st century. In Sikkim, if take into account only the East District, an average of 55 tonnes of miscellaneous waste is dumped every day at Martam landfill.

The landfill’s wall was constructed taking into consideration that it would stand to fill in at an average of 15 years has seen to be loading faster than expected and the segregation of waste in the landfill by the ragpickers is becoming a herculean task by the passing day.

In Sikkim, plastic bags have been banned since 1998, and plastic packaged drinking waters have been banned in Sikkim’s Government offices and events since 2016, but single-use plastic is of almost everyday use. Most environmentalists say that plastic isn’t the root of the problem, but the waste generated that goes unchecked and unrecycled is what accumulates to become a threat to the health of the planet. 

In Sikkim, waste management is a problem except there are people who have been coming up with innovative solutions. “Two years ago when I came to Sikkim, the landfill was quite empty, now it has become 15 feet high,” Pritam Pany, Founder of Voyage said in an interview with Sikkim Chronicle. 

 “I keep going to the landfill, because it is my job, comparing with the time I first came to Sikkim, I can now walk on air that was 15 feet high above,” he adds.

Some people want to work for the betterment and against this plastic waste that is killing the planet one Wai-Wai packet at a time.

An engineer from Sikkim who wants to make roads out of waste plastics and has been working for it the past three years, speaks with Sikkim Chronicle to speak about what it means for Sikkim and how using waste plastic to make roads has been in practice in India. Environmentalist and and Engineer, Susan Rai says, “I wish that this dream of mine will be realised, I am sure because the Government of Sikkim has shown interest and we will soon get a waste plastic road in Sikkim.”

“We know that waste plastics are a plague on Earth and I want to build roads, or at least do a pilot project to see if these roads work in our terrain,” he adds.

Rai informs that to make 1 km of waste plastic roads a total of 1-tonne plastic is used, that is 1-tonne plastic that is lessened from its journey to landfills.

“Landfills are not a solution, they are a part of the problem,” he shares.

“It pains me to see that these plastics mix with other components in the landfill that renders the recyclability of them useless, besides, it melts away and when there’s rain the mixed chemical remains go down the drain and into the rivers.”

“We being a Himalayan state have a responsibility because the water that passes through here goes into the borewells of people in plain regions and that is just another blow to the conscience,” he adds.

Rai also informs that using this method of road construction wouldn’t only benefit the environment but also the economy of the state since these kinds of roads have a life span way longer than the roads that are normally constructed.

 “Plastic roads make sure that no water seeps in during floods or heavy rainfall because what normally happens is that water seeps in and lodges into the mud below roads which is the prime cause of potholes, but plastic makes roads impervious to this,” he shares.

“I want this to happen because it is happening in many regions in India, especially Bangalore, I had no idea about it when I was there. Now that I’m researching and working on it, I am astonished to know that the roads that I once walked on were made out of plastics,”

“I don’t only want to see Sikkim as an environmentally sound state but a plastic waste-free state, and what is needed is people realising this, I still see people being oblivious to waste segregation. People should do this at the source, at their houses and if we start doing it, it will not only be easier for the ragpickers at landfills but also be easier for the government to manage it,” he adds.

India generates 1.88 lakh TNP of garbage of which 12% is plastic where 60% of plastic waste is recycled in an unorganized manner. Rest 40% is landfilled /dumped/burnt. Nearly 50% of the plastic consumed is used for packing. The most used plastic materials for packing are carry bags, cups, food packets, thermoplastics and foams. 

These materials once used are thrown out or littered by us more because of the wrong culture. They mix with Municipal Solid Waste. As they are non-biodegradable, disposal is a problem. The plastic is burnt which generates 51 types of carcinogenic gases and they cause social problems contributing to environmental pollution and climate change.

Waste plastic for road construction

Plastics waste (carry bags, cups, Polystyrene (thermocol), foams and flexible films) is shredded into small pieces (between 1.6mm – 2.5mm). The granite stone is heated to around 170 degrees C and the shredded plastics waste is added to the stone. It gets melted and coated over a stone in just 30 seconds. Then the bitumen is added and mixed. The mix is used for road construction. From rural roads to national highways all types of roads can be laid using this technique. 

Municipal Solid Waste Management

Households and other units wrap all garbage into plastic bags and dispose of them. The non-biodegradable plastic bags act as a covering on the garbage preventing it from being converted into compost.

At present, only 20% of the MSW is converted into compost. This can be considerably increased to 80-85% and more by systematically managing plastic waste.

The Farming Community

Since Sikkim the first organic state in the world it can be one of the foremost areas that would directly benefit is agriculture.

At present, only 20% of MSW is converted into compost. This can be converted to 80-85% once the plastic from the MSW is segregated. Farmers can directly purchase from MSWM if the plastic is separated.

Current scenario of waste plastic in Sikkim

The use of plastic bottled waters and polythene bags has been banned in our state as early as in 1998 but the use of plastic has not been stopped completely. The plastic in different forms like packed food items and different products made of plastic remains handy to the common man. This all results in the generation of a huge amount of waste plastics.

The total population of Sikkim is 6,07,688 approx. Therefore, the amount of plastic wastes generated daily in all the districts of Sikkim exceeds more than 1000 kgs. There are two dumping sites in Sikkim, one for West and South district which is located 30 km away from Namchi town at a place called SIPCHU and for North and East districts are located near Singtam town at a place called NIMTAR. The wastes that are released on the sites are both degradable and non-degradable. These wastes are segregated by the workers, they separate the degradable with the non-degradable ones. The non-degradable wastes are mostly plastic in various forms including bottles, tetra pack, polythene bags and many more. This plastic waste if left untreated leads to many environmental consequences and is hazardous to different forms of life on earth too.

Minimal recycling of waste plastics is done by different bodies. But this doesn’t solve the problem of the whole amount of waste plastics. Some plastic forms which cannot be recycled any further may be used for ROAD  

Awareness Programs

As very few of us are aware of the disadvantages of plastic wastes and its long-term effects on the environment. It is our prime duty to make people from different walks of life aware of these environmental hazards which will create a huge loss to our planet in the coming years.

There are already some organizations like NCC NSS in college-level and school level who are working in a cleanliness campaign. They are guided by their heads and are involved in the cleaning of different places, eg.: in and around town, hospital and its premises, school and college campus, children park, helipad etc. in the cleanliness campaign and awareness program organized, the Municipal bodies are equally involved and they cooperate.

It is our primary duty to be the protector of our environment. It is not a single man who can do this, it is “we” who can make it happen, we should work together, cooperate and protect our environment.

Aiding State Economy

When the life of a road is doubled, then the savings that accrue to the state will increase automatically. 

Segregating the plastic from the MSW at the municipal yard involves the application of resources, the cost of which runs into crores of rupees. A substantial amount of this can be saved.

Lab tests and real-time tests have revealed that the life expectancy of a plastic polymer road, as compared to a normal road, is at least 100% more In addition to the savings accrued at the central level, every state Municipal Solid Waste Management would save crores of rupees by eliminating the plastic segregation process at its yards.

The use of innovative technology not only strengthened the road construction but also increased the road life as well as will help to improve the environment and also creating a source of income.

Plastic roads would be a boon for Sikkim’s climate, where temperatures frequently cross 5° c to 32°C and heavy torrential rains create havoc, leaving most of the roads with big potholes. It is hoped that shortly we will have strong, durable and eco-friendly roads which will relieve the earth from all type of plastic waste.

“We can fight against waste plastics. It’s time to act now, be the protector of your environment. Let’s join hands to protect our Environment and let us make Sikkim free from waste plastic,” urges Susan.

Sources: Dr. Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Utilization Of Waste Plastics In Construction Of Flexible Pavement, Indian Plastics journal, 2004

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