‘Turn off the tap at the manufacturing stage itself ’
National Geographic Explorer underscores need to boost waste management infrastructure
The use of plastics can be cut down drastically at the manufacturing stage itself, but without adequate waste management infrastructure, the quantity of plastics entering the oceans is expected to double to 155 million cubic tonnes by 2025, said Dr. Jenna R. Jambeck, associate professor at the University of Georgia.
Dr. Jambeck, also a National Geographic Explorer, has been conducting research on issues pertaining to solid waste for the past two decades, with a focus on marine debris.
In an interview to
in Chennai recently, Dr. Jambeck said there was a growing need to focus on “shutting off the tap” upstream, redesigning products using alternative material and reducing single-use plastics. “We also need to improve waste management infrastructure — any kind of waste, whether
it’s plastic or not,” she said.
“We are clearly seeing the results of not managing that waste,” Ms. Jambeck added. The other problem facing us, she said, was the “explosion” of online shopping that was now posing yet another challenge to reducing waste and the means to manage it.
The onus of cutting plastic consumption, she said, was on everyone – the citizens, who could participate in programmes (to reduce the use of plastic), the governments, that act as facilitators and, more importantly, the industry, which has the resources and the ability to design products that are easier to manage in the waste chain.
When asked if companies would be willing to make such large investments to bring in new products and alternatives, she said, “Seeing the consequences of not making those choices has motivated the industry to look at not just alternative materials but [also] alter- native ways to deliver products, [and for] reduction and redesign of products.”
The challenge of costs
“It is challenging to come up with that kind of upfront cost and that’s sort of a typical conundrum with all kinds [of] environmental issues — the short-term gain, the short-term meeting [of] needs and potentially compromising the future,” Ms. Jambeck said.
Developing economies could benefit from making innovations and delivering different products, though the onus would primarily be on developed economies like the United States, which produce twice the amount of waste in the world, to reduce it, she said.
“Subsidies could be an option wherever possible and where there is a lack of resources to switch to alternatives, to enable people to use certain types of products and help reduce plastic,” she added.
Marine menace: Without adequate waste management infrastructure, the quantity of plastic entering the oceans is expected to reach 155 million cubic tonnes by 2025