The author is a Post Graduate educated in Economics & Environment law has been a Social Development Practitioner for the past 30 plus years working on infrastructure, policy and outreach advocacy, environment management, training capacity building, solid waste management, etc. His experience spreads across Asia, Pacific and South Africa
Stubble burning has been a curse for the capital city, Delhi. The neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana have been equally responsible in their contribution as much are the other factors of industrial and vehicular pollution addition to the chaos we are facing on a daily basis as citizens of Delhi.
This is the quality of life we do not deserve after being faithful tax payers. Where do we go from here? Who will address our concern about air pollution? Are we at a stage where we would be bumped off for the curse of choosing to live in Delhi?
Polluting Industries have been shifted from the city to the outskirts, again leading the city to expand beyond those boundaries. Various measures are being implemented. Vehicles are being experimented through Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), odd/even formula, expansion of metro services, building the peripheral expressway to avoid large trucks and those vehicles that would have passed through the city to, being diverted from a National Highway to another, trying to work on rehabilitation of the landfill sites, switching over fuel from diesel to Piped Natural Gas (PNG) to run industrial boilers and generators and so.
But we are at the critical stage of choking our lungs and dying a natural death in the process as none of the above seem to have helped much in the endeavour of reducing air pollution. Over the years this has rather steeply raised and is now moving faster to hit the skies faster than we can estimate.
It is time now to do something, immediately. The team of Let’s Be The Change (LBTC) could be an example. LBTC is a dynamic initiative by Dr. Ruby Makhija, General Secretary of Navjiwan Resident Welfare Association and an eye specialist by profession; where a group of like-minded citizens has joined hands to work towards the betterment of society and environment. The group has been relentlessly working to provide solution to one of the problems, which would have two-three effects.
Now speaking of stubble burning, and the problem of use of plastic in large quantities by the E-commerce companies like Amazon and Flipkart, etc., and enabling the farmers to earn a little from the stubble, which is burnt.
We, the team of LBTC, believe that looking from the traditional perspective the packing was generally done by using straw of various kinds for glass, or any other item that was transported for long distances. This was in practice if we look at the dates around the 1970s and 80s. Somehow, this practice got fizzled out due to the introduction of plastic; because of its low price, and easy availability. Over the years, we have become so much dependent on plastic that once the caption of Steel Authority of India, which said “there is a bit of steel in everybody’s life” could now be written as “there is only plastic in everybody’s life”.
So getting back to our subject, if a strategy could worked out, where it becomes win-win for all, the farmers, the e-commerce and the people of Delhi and its adjoining cities, suffering from the menace of the mammoth air pollution problem and predicament due to plastic, which has engulfed our lives to an extent where we have stalled our brains from thinking beyond this.
The quantity of products that the e-commerce companies are selling can be seen on the google sites where it indicates that, One of its India units, Amazon Seller Services alone have received over Rs. 8,000 crore (about USD 1.28 billion) during the financial year 2017-18 from the US parent, as per documents filed with India’s Corporate Affairs Ministry. So, if I estimate a product to be on an average costing about Rs. 500 (because they sell everything under the sun, practically) then the number of products sold would be 1.5 crores. This shows the quantum of much plastic utilized. Considering use of about 100 gms of plastic (keeping it on the conservative side) it comes to nearly 15 lakh tons of plastic used.
Looking at the economics the cost of this plastic, designing product wise, procuring, quality check, transportation to each logistic centre, manpower cost, there is a huge recurring expenditure.
On the contrary, the utilization of the straw or the stubble for the packaging could save a huge sum. There may be issues pertaining to the collection, storage, cutting the straw into small units and then transporting to the logistic centres. But compared to the plastic this is easier to collect and also in terms of utilization. The cost-saving would also be great.
Further, in the process the farmers are benefitted with source of income from the waste generated, which they tend to burnt. This income could also enable them to buy products or services that will enhance the fertility of the soil through other alternates then burning the stubble.
Secondly, by adopting agricultural straws in packaging, there will be a significant reduction of the plastic usage, which is the dire necessity of the day. Above all, the cost to be incurred by the country for disposal of agricultural straw based packaging waste will be far negligible as compared to the plastic waste.
Thirdly, the issue of air pollution can be addressed in a large way. The economics of the health-related expenditure due to this air pollution may be calculated. But, not the lives we are losing to air pollution. At least, we are at loss to estimate a loss of life in terms of the family, society, and country.
Therefore, it would be important for the governments, the policy makers, the advocates, civil societies, the non-government organizations, the media, think tanks and the citizens need to come together in this endeavour as alone none of us can attain any solution. Together We Can and Together We Will.