For the Love of South Asia, Let’s Ditch Plastics

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Man walking along the beach at Marine Drive in South Mumbai, India. Man walking along the beach at Marine Drive in South Mumbai, India.

When I was in my native Mumbai a couple of months back, I made the usual beeline for childhood hotspots, and eventually found myself in front of the iconic Gateway of India arch framing the Arabian sea at the southern end of the city.  I spent many an hour here strolling the plaza as a local resident, later a French interpreter, and even a starstruck student admiring the 117-year-old majestic Hotel Taj towering across.

As I perched myself that day with family against the parapet framing the rim of the sea, vying for that perfect selfie that captured it all, my 12-year-old history and geography buff exclaimed, “Mamma look, a cell phone cover in the Arabian sea!” I glanced over my shoulder and saw what I thought I’d see—plastic bottles, bags, cans, and yes, even an iPhone cover buoying over the dull gray waters—the thick waves heaving up and down—as if sighing deep at carrying this unnecessary burden of humanity. It was a sight achingly familiar to me growing up in Mumbai (admittedly, no cell phones back then yet), a reclaimed island interspersed ever so often with plastic-ridden beaches and waters.  

Marine plastics is indeed a cause for alarm to Mumbai and is a microcosm of the plastics problem engulfing all of South Asia.

Yes, marine plastics is indeed a cause for alarm to Mumbai and is a microcosm of the plastics problem engulfing all of South Asia.  Our region has the notably unnoteworthy distinction of leading the world in the open dumping of plastic and all waste. A garbage truck worth of plastic enters the ocean every minute or an estimated 5.2 trillion pieces of plastic are polluting our ocean, with an additional 8 million tons entering each year. About 75% of South Asia’s 334 million metric tons of waste per year are openly dumped, and 12% of this—40 million metric tons per year—is plastic.  Before the pandemic, more than 46,000 pieces (269,000 tons) of plastic polluted one square mile of the Indian Ocean on an average.  

For Mumbai specifically, a study by the ICAR-Central Institute of Fisheries Education found that there were 80 microplastic particles per 100 grams of fish, bivalves (clams and oysters), and shrimp caught in Mumbai. This means marine debris is not only making its way into the bellies of aquatic animals, but is entering the human food chain as well, and ultimately our bodies. 

South Asians are already coming together to beat plastics pollution and we can do more! The World Bank’s South Asia region is launching a #DitchPlastics this Valentine’s Day campaign. This is a social media campaign with a call to action to reduce our use of plastics—especially single-use plastics—on Valentine’s Day and every day to show our love and appreciation for our one and only planet. You can share what you are doing to reduce single use plastics in a short video here.

#DitchPlastics call for video submissions
What will you do to reduce your use of single-use plastics this year? Submit your video.

For my part, one of the things I brought back from my recent trip to Mumbai to my home of 25 years in the Occidental West is a collection of orange, red, and cream-colored cloth grocery bags, collected and folded with care. Not only will they remind me of places I shopped at in Mumbai and be handy for my grocery expeditions, more importantly, they stir a pride in me that the city I grew up in cares about the environment and plastics: most grocery stores, restaurants, chain stores, even mom and pop stores in Mumbai have rid themselves of plastic for pretty cloth bags and cardboard cartons—designed as well with an eye for color and detail. 

So, this Valentine’s Day, let’s toss aside some plastic. Without action, the South Asia region will double its mismanaged waste by 2050, earning the unwanted distinction of owning the fastest growth of waste and plastic pollution of all regions of the world, according to the World Bank’s What A Waste 2.0 report.  With action, we get to enjoy water and air—our love affair with life itself—for many lifetimes and more.


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