India’s Modi calls for crackdown on plastic pollution

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on the world Tuesday to do more to tackle plastic pollution and other environmental issues.

“India is the fastest-growing economy in the world today. We are committed to realizing the standards of our people in a way that is sustainable and green,” Modi said at an event to mark World Environment Day, which India is hosting this year.

“Environmental degradation hurts the poor and vulnerable the most. It is the duty of each one of us to ensure that material prosperity does not compromise our environment.”

The theme for World Environment Day is “Beat Plastic Pollution.” Events began Friday, with high-profile Indian politicians speaking out on the increasing damage plastics are doing to the environment and the country’s beaches.

The Indian state of Tamil Nadu announced Tuesday it would ban the use of plastic items, including nonbiodegradable plastic bags, starting in January.

Around the world, 1 million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, according to the United Nations. Every year the world uses up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. Around half of all plastic consumed is single use, meaning it immediately becomes waste if not recycled.

India generates about 25,940 tons of plastic and more than 97,000 tons of solid waste per day, according to the country’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Initiative to clean up beaches

Lawyer and activist Afroz Shah has launched one of the most popular initiatives to clean up plastics on India’s beaches.

Shah moved into an apartment overlooking a beach in Mumbai. Seeing the quantity of plastic littered across the stretch of the beach, he and a friend began working on cleaning it up. The campaign slowly grew from two people to thousands of volunteers who work every day to ensure the litter does not turn into marine debris.

“Getting more people on board is the next step,” Shah told CNN. “How can we reach 500,000 volunteers? How can we reach 5 million?”

Shah said volunteers have cleared almost 15 million kilograms of plastic from the beach near his home in the past three weeks.

Air problems

Besides a problem with plastics, India is also home to some of the most polluted cities in the world.

New Delhi has been labeled the city with the worst air pollution globally, while a Greenpeace report found that no city in India met minimum World Health Organization standards for air quality.

One of Modi’s first initiatives after coming to power was the Clean India Campaign, and he has spoken about the need for the public to stop littering and practice better hygiene and sanitation regularly.

In a country where 40% of the population defecates in the open, according to the World Bank, the government’s campaign to build toilets and enforce strict fines for offenders has resulted in entire districts boasting of being “open defecation free.”

More than 73 million toilets have been built across the country, according to the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Modi has also spoken out about the dangers of climate change and the need for measures to combat global warming. India has suffered from deadly heat waves and widespread droughts, accentuated by rising temperatures.

“Our first danger is that of climate change. The glaciers are receding. And ice is melting. The impact of extreme weather is increasing,” Modi said earlier this year at the Global Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

India has invested in renewable energy, even as the government struggles to provide electricity to thousands of villages around the country.

“While much of the world focuses on the inconvenient truths, we have moved on to convenient actions,” Modi said.