Studying Plastic Pollution in the Ganga with National Geographic

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Ganga, the life source of Northern and Eastern India is a prominent area of study by researchers from diverse disciplines, a key among them is the environment. In 2019, the National Geographic Society organized the expedition “Sea to Source: Ganges” to scientifically document plastic waste in the Ganges watershed and support holistic and inclusive solutions. A proud partner in this women scientists-led expedition was IIT Kharagpur along with the Isabela Foundation, University of Dhaka, the Wildlife Institute of India, and Wild Team Bangladesh.

Researchers and students from an environment-focused group at the Dept. of Civil Engineering, IIT Kharagpur participated in this transboundary expedition. The group was involved in estimating the mismanaged plastic quantities from municipal solid waste all along the river in India and come up with potential solutions and improvements in waste management systems to avoid the leakages of plastic waste from land to the river.

Talking about their role in the study-based expedition, Prof. Brajesh Dubey who heads this group at IIT Kharagpur said, “We carried out the waste characterization from the city/town dumpsite waste samples, as well as the samples collected along the river from Rishikesh to Howrah. It helped in estimating the extent of mismanaged plastics in the waste, the type of plastics present in the waste and the estimation of the fraction of mismanaged waste plastics getting into the river Ganga. A model is also being developed using the field data to have a realistic estimation of the plastic pollution transport from land to river and eventually to the ocean.”

The IIT research group also performed a photographic survey of waste management practices and issues for each city/town. Further, they held and discussions with city officials on waste management plans, identification of infrastructure gaps for the city/town and suggestions for improvement in the implementation of the solutions for better plastic waste management.  The solutions proposed include the proper waste collection in segregation mode, capacity building in terms of infrastructure development as well as skill improvement of manpower involved in waste management practices at ULB levels.  The research group is in touch with several ULBs for the improvement of their waste management infrastructure. 

While the expedition was carried out from May to December 2019, the study was carried out till February 2021. The report has been recently made public by the National Geographic Society on their blog. Read More

Photo by Sara Hylton.

Times of India

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