Delegation of the European Union to Eswatini

Reducing Plastic Footprint: the EU and India present research perspectives on tackling plastic waste

New Delhi, 23/10/2020 - 08:55, UNIQUE ID: 201023_24
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New Delhi, 22 October: The Delegation of the European Union to India and the Embassy of Germany, representing the German Presidency to the European Union, co-hosted a virtual seminar on the role of science and citizens in tackling plastic waste. The online discussions featured leading Indian and European scientists and officials in the field. They presented research done and where and how to increase efforts to combat plastic pollution and transitioning to a resource efficient, circular economy.

Mass production of plastics started only in the 1950s but the numbers of disposable plastics products ending up in trash are staggering.  At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans. Plastic pollution and wasteful use threaten biodiversity, livelihoods, food safety, human health and contributes to climate change. At the EU-India Summit in July 2020, this threat was recognised and both sides agreed to tackle jointly plastic and marine litter.

Delivering the opening address, the Ambassador of the European Union to India, H.E. Mr Ugo Astuto said, “We need to rethink the way we produce, use, dispose and recycle plastics. We are already engaged with India in promoting dialogue and best practices to foster an efficient and sustainable use of natural resources. We will not achieve our joint objective to dispose in a sustainable way growing quantities of plastic waste without increased international efforts on research and innovation. This offers potentially great opportunities for academia and business to work together for a greener future.”

In his opening address, the German Ambassador to India, H.E. Mr Walter J. Lindner, said, “Plastic waste is a huge global challenge. Every single one of us is called to contribute to a solution. At the German Embassy in New Delhi, we segregate plastic waste. On a much larger scale, under the German Presidency to the European Union, we have set plastic waste research as a priority. Like in every global challenge, any meaningful solution must include India. Therefore, I am glad that today’s virtual seminar brings together researchers, activists, and policy makers from India and Europe. It is my hope that this seminar will help further intensify India-EU cooperation for plastic waste solutions.”

The EU and India are committed to working together on plastic and other environmental aspects. “The EU-India Strategic Partnership: A roadmap to 2025,” endorsed by the leaders during the 15th European Union – India Summit on the 15th July 2020 outlined to strengthen cooperation on environmental matters. This would be ‘through the Joint Working Group on Environment as well as the Environmental Forum to support India’s transition to a resource efficient and circular economy, to address air and water pollution, and to find innovative solutions to tackling plastic and marine litter, as well as to promote the integration of environmental concerns and solutions into economic growth policies.’

The EU India collaboration in the area of plastics will be further strengthened through a revamped India-EU Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy Partnership. This new partnership will address all dimensions of waste, from information systems, and awareness raising, to standards, recycling waste, economic instruments such as sustainable public procurement, labelling and packaging, to the role of research and innovation.

The European Investment Bank (EIB), together with the German Development Bank (KFW) and the French Development Bank (AFD) and other major financing institutions, launched a €2 billion Clean Oceans Initiative to prevent and reduce plastics in the oceans. India could also benefit as of 2021.

Dr Pravakar Mishra, Scientist - F, National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR), Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, Chennai presented research done by NCCR, Ministry of Earth Science, which focussed mainly on the quantification, sample collection and analysis and distribution pattern of marine litter and micro plastics in water. He added that efforts are now being stepped up to create a database on beach litter and its composition as a part of Coastal clean-up campaign and in doing so creating more awareness among citizens.

Ms Sieglinde Gruber, Head of Unit, Marine Resources, Directorate-General for Research & Innovation, European Commission, Brussels, presented the ongoing plastic waste research activities under the EU research and innovation programmes. She recognised that despite all research and innovation efforts taken so far to combat plastic pollution and marine litter, plastic pollution remains a huge problem. It is urgent to step up efforts to the next level. “I am confident that with the new initiatives taken at EU, Member States and global level, involving also more the citizens and focussing on recycling techniques, and joining efforts, we could see progress in the coming years,” she added.

Dr Katrin Knickmeier, Director, The Kiel Science Factory, University of Kiel delivered a session on ‘Plastic Pirates: A pan-European citizen science approach to plastic waste in waterways with global relevance’. She said, “Sampling is vital for identifying the amount of micro plastics damaging our local rivers and marine life. Our Plastic Pirates programme takes a broad-based approach, involving school students to collect data, which makes it easy to enhance scientific literacy on plastic pollution within the community. So far, we have conducted six sampling campaigns involving over 14,000 students and 800 teachers across Germany. The programme is now being adopted in Portugal and Slovenia and we hope that it extends across Europe and other continents.”

Speaking about novel waste-to-energy technologies from an Indian context, Dr R. Vinu, Associate Professor, Indo-German Centre for Sustainability, IIT Madras, stressed on the need for a multi-pronged approach to effectively address the solid waste disposal and treatment, which is the number one priority for all the nations. He focussed on thermochemical technologies to convert the huge volume of plastic and agri-biomass wastes into valuable liquid fuels or energy.

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