The Plastic Express

Minutes after the New Delhi - Howrah Rajdhani Express gains speed, a man wearing the badge of IRCTC comes around with plastic bottles containing Rail Neer (Mineral Water), as also non-biodegradable containers filled with flavored Lassi. A little later, he appears again, this time bringing tea service: a hot Kachori wrapped in foil, a plastic sachet of ketchup, a small cake enclosed in semi-hard plastic, fragrant tea bag wrapped in clear cellophane, milk powder carefully concealed in a plastic packet – all ensuring hundred percent food security.  

Dinner Less Risky 

Dinner of course is a bit lesser on plastic packaging – only the breadsticks are wrapped in it, but the butter is served in typical miniature plastic tub, while there is foil cover for the rotis. Foil covers are also used to cover the bowls of Sabzi, Dal and chicken, plus a sachet containing some pickle, and finally a semi-hard plastic cup containing vanilla ice cream.

Breakfast Next Morning    

Breakfast the next morning brings more plastic packaging examples. The tea comes as described above; the omelet is, again, covered in foil; the butter, ketchup and milk powder are in the same non-biodegradable livery; salt, pepper and sugar in paper packets; and then there is the bread. To be specific, there are two slices of bread, nominally ‘brown’ bread, wrapped in clear plastic, with a reputed bread company’s full colour branding printed on one side.

IRCTC’s Role

Across every compartment of the super fast train, passengers consuming food supplied to them by IRCTC will be getting these packets. For every two slices of bread consumed there will be one frayed prophylactic of cellophane thrown on to a food tray, where it will enjoin with the debris of hard plastic bottles and tubs, spent plastic sachets, more cellophane and foil. And this happens not only with all other Rajdhani or Plastic expresses running on the Indian sub continent but many other Satabdi  or similar super fast expresses. If you ever ask any of the devoted IRCTC serving members about how they get rid of this monumental plastic debris, you will only find dumb faces.

What The Survey Says

However, here is an excerpt from a survey conducted on this issue, along with commentaries made by the surveyors on the appalling issue.

“First of all, we need to assess the nature and amount of solid waste that is generated by IR (Indian Railway) every day to know the magnitude of the problem.  Solid waste generated in trains can be sorted out as biodegradable, slowly degradable and non-biodegradable substances. The biodegradable waste component consists mostly of leftover food of passengers; the slowly degradable waste component includes paper waste (like newspapers, disposable cups, food containers and lids); and the non-biodegradable waste component comprises plastic waste (like plastic coverings, sachets, plastic bottles, cups and lids). Nevertheless, the volume of plastic and paper waste generated daily by the railways is absolutely enormous.”

Comments made by the surveyors

“A random survey of four express trains was conducted at the Surat railway station in Gujarat to get an idea of the amount of solid waste generated per train per day. Managers of the pantry car were asked about the number of meals, coffee/tea cups, meal containers and mineral water bottles they sell. It was assumed that after consumption of food, the meal containers, coffee/tea cups and mineral water bottles would be thrown away as waste. Thus by counting the number of items sold per day the amount of waste generated was calculated. Assuming that these disposable items are thrown out of the train after consumption (the only option passengers have!), we found that each train generates 1,100 paper plates and containers, 1,750 paper cups and 800 plastic items (pouches and bottles) per day. These figures would assume alarming proportions when disposable items sold by other vendors as also the total number of trains plying per day in the country are considered.

According to our calculations, there are 842 express trains in India. We took only such trains into consideration, and used the figures arrived at in the Surat survey as the basis for the amount of waste generated by each train. The final results were simply shocking.”