Make them change agents

Programmes on waste management need to begin at school and college levels so that behavioural change can be enabled

-Vishal Dev

The transition to a circular economy is dependent on how individuals and organisations learn to innovate and apply what they have learned in the real world. The education sector, from primary school to postgraduate study, plays a vital role in ensuring students of all ages are equipped with the key skills and knowledge to apply circular thinking in their chosen careers. While the country has been professing circularity as a behaviour from ancient times, the tradition has lost its sheen due to transitioning education system towards consumption. However, the last couple of decades have given us enough realization that uncontrolled consumption will only lead the planet towards loss of lives and wealth.

One such devastation mankind has caused for itself is through profuse use of plastics. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the advent of plastic and its large-scale commercial utilisation. While mankind rejoiced in this low cost, lightweight, durable material, its ill effects on the environment and lives could only be understood in the twenty-first century. The students and youth today, should be able to identify that the packet of wafers, the flamboyant tetra pack, the chocolate wrapper, disposed out from the stuff which we all feel fulfilling in consuming is multilayered plastic that goes mostly to the landfills, thus leaching land, water bodies and penetrating the food chain.

While there is no doubt that plastics have improved people’s lives—from revolutionising the material supply chain through providing packaging for products that are more convenient, safer, and cheaper, among many other benefits. But there are downsides to the use of plastic, especially when the extraction of raw materials and disposal of waste are not managed sustainably. The institutional approach to educate about circularity is the cost-effective way to ensure a sustainable planet.

WWF-India is promoting green deed through its initiative GIVE ONE HOUR FOR EARTH this EARTH HOUR. Here is a great opportunity for all the youths to promote plastic circularity by leading as a change agent and training others. Easy things to adopt and promote others to adopt are stopping the use of single use plastics like disposables, packaging etc., disposing plastic waste separately at designated collection points, ensuring proper segregation of household wastes, adopting no litter practice, initiating or participating in plastic litter cleaning drives, promoting recycled products.

The unsustainable issues linked to plastics do not end with the enormous amounts of GHG emissions generated from the production stages; they also extend to waste management. India generates 3.46 million metric tonnes of plastic waste annually as reported by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India. The actual plastic waste generation data can be well more than the reported figures.

The country has a demographic advantage of 50% of its population falling below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35 years. In this mission towards making this country plastic litter free, it is important that the youth of this country be trained and educated to promote circularity in plastics. The school and college level education and training shall be leveraged for such dissemination, thus leading to early awareness, and action by people. The behavioral change towards circularity can only be ensured through providing elementary knowledge based on the concept of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mandatorily from primary school level till senior secondary school. The missing knowledge of what is right for the environment and what is wrong shall be made integral to all formats of the institutional educational system. While many of us do not even identify our self-generated wastes today and the path they adopt after end of life, education is important to let individuals know the impact of their choices on the environment. People today would hardly be able to make out that a mixed municipal waste generated from households will have no economic value for recycling, hence, will mostly end up in landfills. Educational institutions should have courses and projects to help students to know about the type of wastes based on degradable/ non-degradable, recyclable/ non-recyclable, importance of waste segregation, waste management system.

This initiative is being promoted as build-up on the success in protecting this only planet we have from the harsh effects of emission and uncontrolled resource utilization through The Earth Hour, a worldwide movement of WWF celebrated every year (25th March) by switching off between 8.30 to 9.30 pm local time achieved through the togetherness and solidarity among people. Let the youths be the torchbearer by giving their one hour for this cause on the coming 25th March 2023.