How Hemp Can Help Reduce Garbage In India?
Before we explore how hemp can help reduce garbage in India, here’s a fact.
An April 2018 article in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) refers to the Press Information Bureau (PIB), Government of India, 2016 data to inform that India generates 62 million tons of waste annually. This contains both recyclable and non-recyclable waste. This total waste falls into three categories: biodegradable or organic waste, dry recyclable waste, and hazardous waste.
The problem of such immense quantities of a waste generation gets further compounded by poor waste management mechanisms. The same EPW article quotes the PIB 2016 to reflect that there is a perpetual gap between the amount of waste generated and the amount of waste collected by civic bodies.
Besides, a negligible quantity of the collected waste ever gets treated. The remaining collected waste simply gets dumped. That means, there is really no efficient management even of the collected waste. Collection may simply mean that the generated waste moves from one place to another.
Health Hazards from Poor Waste Management
Mounds of garbage are not just an eyesore. They pose serious health threats to the environment and to human beings.
A 2013 article published in a Special Issue of the International Journal of Sustainable Development and Green Economics (IJSDGE) mentions that unplanned dumping of municipal solid waste pollutes the air, soil, and water. Dumped garbage can contaminate both ground and surface water supplies.
Drains also get clogged by unmanaged rubbish and become breeding grounds of vector insects like mosquitoes. Garbage heaps also attract other insect and rodent vectors, paving the way for diseases like cholera, dengue, malaria, typhoid, etc. Deliberate and/or accidental burning of dumped garage brings in a whole different dimension of health hazards.
Apart from contributing to the greenhouse effect, burning garbage releases toxic smoke in the atmosphere. Experts believe that such smoke has cancer-causing components. To give a somewhat vivid idea of how hazardous that can be, let us remind you of an incident in Deonar, Mumbai.
In 2016, the garbage dump in Deonar, measuring nearly 18 feet in height, caught fire. It took three months for the fire to die down. For this entire period, the toxic smoke of burning plastic and other items polluted the air of Deonar and its surroundings.
As per the data of System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR), Deonar became and continues to be the most polluted suburb in Mumbai since then.
The Plastic Percentage
A considerable part of the non-recyclable waste India generates consists of single-use plastic. A recent report published in The Economic Times uses data generated by the Central Pollution Control Board to reflect that India generates 25,940 tons of plastic waste every day.
That is almost equal to the average weight of 9,000 Asian elephants or 86 Boeing 747 planes! The same report mentions that 10,376 tons of this total plastic waste remain uncollected every day.
In other words, that is how much plastic per day can eventually get into the environment, choking our water bodies, polluting our soil and jeopardizing our biodiversity. Enacting laws and laying down policies are obviously not enough of a solution.
As high as 25 of our 29 states and seven Union Territories got a rap from the National Green Tribunal recently. All of them have failed to submit a plan for tackling plastic waste by 30 April 2019. Is there no solution then?
Maybe the Solution Lies in Ancient Wisdom
The hemp plant, also known as industrial hemp, may have a solution to offer. Yes, hemp is a plant cousin of the narcotic cannabis. They both belong to the same plant species Cannabis Sativa. But no, hemp does not have the psychoactive properties of cannabis. It cannot give you a “high”.
Hemp is one of the earliest plants that human beings cultivated and used because of its versatility. Norwegian folklore says that the Norse people in the valley of Gausdal greeted their hemp fields with tipped hats. Hemp appears in the folklore of many countries, including India. That is testimony to the plant’s use since ancient times.
Hemp fibers contain a high concentration of cellulose. It is possible to use this cellulose to produce biodegradable plastic.
The plastic we customarily use today is a petrochemical-based product, But hemp bioplastic, along with other organic forms of plastic not derived from fossil fuels, was in use since before the current version of plastic got invented.
So, why hasn’t hemp plastic been developed for widespread use by now? Because we humans in our egoistic claim to ruling the universe have disregarded ancient wisdom often enough. Banning hemp cultivation is an archetypal example.
Yes, we have been arrogant enough to prohibit a plant from being used for thousands of years. There are conspiracy theories about vested interests working behind that. However, without getting into that debate, let us just simply accept that the powers that be overlooked a vital difference between hemp and cannabis and banned the former along with the latter.
That happened only in the second half of the 20th century. Hemp mistakenly got classified as a narcotic, like its cannabis cousin. But it isn’t. Hemp contains as low as 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance present in high concentration in cannabis. Hemp does not have any psychoactive effects, therefore.
The 21st century has thankfully brought corrective measures to that. Countries across the globe have started to legalize the cultivation of hemp, and the manufacture, sale and export of hemp-based products.
As far as India is concerned, two states currently have the legal authority to produce hemp for medicinal and industrial purposes.
Replacing petrochemical-based plastic by hemp bioplastic can, indeed, contribute significantly to reducing the mounds of plastic waste in India. But a concerted political will at the state and the center is necessary for that.
Hemp can Reduce Garbage of India Resulting from Construction Waste?
With rapid urbanization being one of the major factors behind the increased generation of solid waste, construction and demolition debris constitute another major source. Construction and demolition (C&D) debris constitute waste generated from the construction, demolition, and renovation of buildings.
According to a 2018 paper published in the Civil Engineering Research Journal, India produces 12-14.7 million tons of C&D waste every year. C&D waste is heavy, toxic, and not easily biodegradable. The versatile hemp plant has a role to play here as well, in the form of hempcrete – a building material produced from hemp fibers.
Hempcrete is a composite material produced by mixing hemp hurds with lime and water. Hemp hurds, also known as hemp shives, designate the woody inner part that remains after the outer layer of hemp stalks have been taken out. The fibers from the outer layers of the stalks are used for producing hemp fabric.
Hempcrete is non-toxic, absorbs and retains carbon dioxide, and is biodegradable. It is not heavy enough to build walls independently.
However, it is amazingly suitable as an insulating material. Hempcrete is breathable, which makes it suitable for warm weather. It can also retain thermal energy, which makes it appropriate for colder climates.
Hemp to Reduce Garbage In India
Increased hemp cultivation and enhanced use of its products thus offer a viable alternative to two of the worst constituents of our garbage dumps: plastic and C&D waste. It is time to take this wonder plant more seriously, it seems.