New Delhi: India, a country that ranks third from the bottom in the global Environmental Performance Index, will host the World Environment Day this year, on June 5.
The United Nations Under-Secretary General and head of UN Environment, Erik Solheim made the announcement on Monday along with Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Harsh Vardhan.
The theme for this year is 'Beat Plastic Pollution', which "urges governments, industry, communities and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic that is polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health", said UN Environment in a statement.
India, said Solheim, had "demonstrated tremendous global leadership on climate change and the need to shift to a low carbon economy" and will "help galvanise greater action on plastics pollution".
This came despite the fact that India was one of three countries to reject concrete target in a UN agreement to reduce plastic waste in oceans in December 2017. The Independent had reported that, led by the US, India and China rejected specific, internationally-agreed goals to tackle ocean plastic waste. In the face of this opposition, the agreement that emerged was not legally binding and had no timetable.
Solheim's statement on Monday called India an emerging leader, "given it has one of the highest recycling rates in the world".
A year-long study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), from February 2017, showed this to be true, at least in the case of polyethylene terephthalate or PET, a plastic used in drinking water bottles and food containers.
The study said that, of the 900 kilo tonnes (kt) of PET produced annually here, 65 percent is recycled at registered facilities, 15 percent in the hands of the unorganised sector, 10 percent is reused by people at home. Japan's recycling rate is 72.1 percent, Europe's is 48.3 percent and US' is 31 percent.
The world's production all kinds of plastic is estimated at 300 million tonnes (mt), annually. This, according to the UN, means the world uses 500 billion plastic bags a year, and buys one million plastic bottles a minute.
Estimates from 2014-15 show that India produces one tenth of the plastic produced by the United States, giving it an advantage.
Conversely, a study by the World Economic Forum, in 2017, spelled gloom, saying that the world's oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2025, at the current rate of plastic dumping. India's plastic waste makes up 60 percent of this waste, as it generates 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste annually. Of that, 9.6 kt comes from Delhi.
Another study, by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, said that the Nile and the Niger in Africa, the Yangtze, the Huang He, and the Mekong in China, and the Ganga and the Indus in India carry a bulk of the plastic waste into the oceans.
About 8 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans, or a full garbage truck every minute, said the UN.
The Indian government will now undertake activities and events to generate awareness and public participation, such as pan-India clean-up drives in "public areas, national reserves and forests" and beaches.
“India is excited to host the World Environment Day this year on June 5. Indian philosophy and lifestyle has long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. We are committed towards making Planet Earth a cleaner and greener place,” said Vardhan.
He added, “If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our Green Social Responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet.”