Within a short span of time, plastic has become the number one polluter of our planet. It is high time we take adequate measures to combat this global menace.
Invented in the late 19th century, plastic began to be mass-produced in the early 20th century. Plastics ushered in an era of material abundance, replacing a conservative lifestyle with a disposable one. Initially, plastics were made from polymers found in nature. However, chemists discovered that plastic could also be made from waste gases from oil companies. Soon, plastics became so inexpensive that almost everything was made from it.
In the beginning, plastic helped in saving wildlife. In the 1800s, combs, billiard balls and trinkets were made of elephant ivory. With dwindling elephant numbers and poaching becoming illegal, plastic became a very viable substitute, thus playing a small role in preserving elephant populations. It’s ironic that the material which once helped conserve nature has today become the top substance destroying our planet. India produces over 62 million tones of waste every year, out of which 43 million is collected and a meagre 12 million tons is treated and dumped. The remaining waste ends up in rivers, oceans and grasslands, forming huge garbage yards. This waste has a huge impact on the environment as it never goes away.
The Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) established a classification system in 1988 to allow consumers and recyclers to identify different types of plastic.
CLASSIFICATION OF PLASTICS
Code 1 – Polyethylene Terephthalate: PET often absorbs the odors and flavors of food and drinks stored in them. Common household items made from this plastic such as beverage bottles, medicine jars, rope, clothing and carpet fiber can be recycled.
Code 2 – High-Density Polyethylene: HDPE products are not known to transmit any chemicals into edible items and can be recycled. Items made from this plastic include containers for milk, motor oil, shampoos and conditioners, soap bottles, detergents, and bleaches. It is unsafe to reuse HDPE bottles as food or drink containers if it didn’t originally contain eatables.
Code 3 – Polyvinyl Chloride: PVC is often used for manufacturing all kinds of pipes. This kind of plastic should not come in contact with food items as it can be harmful if ingested. This is sometimes recycled as well.
Code 4 – Low-Density Polyethylene: LDPE is both durable and flexible. Items such as cling-film, sandwich bags, squeezable bottles, and plastic grocery bags are made from this. This too is recycled.
Code 5 – Polypropylene: PP is strong and can usually withstand higher temperatures and is used to make lunch boxes, margarine containers, yogurt pots, syrup bottles, prescription bottles. Plastic bottle caps are also often made from PP.
Code 6 – Polystyrene: Difficult to recycle, items such as disposable cups, food boxes, cutlery and packing foam are made from it.
Code 7 – Other plastic (including acrylic, polycarbonate, nylon, fiber, etc) : is used to … designate miscellaneous plastic types not defined by the other six codes. These types of plastics are very difficult to recycle and include items like baby feeding bottles, compact discs, and medical storage containers.
As packaging material, plastic is cheap and apt but lethal when left in our environment. Consisting of long chains of molecules made of non-biodegradable monomers, plastic causes immense pollution to land, air and water.
About 9.2 billion tones of waste has piled up in the last century. When dumped in landfills, toxins in plastic interact with groundwater and pollute it with hazardous chemicals. According to National Geographic, around 700 species, marine as well as non-marine, including endangered ones, have been affected by such toxins released in water.
The worst nightmare is the accumulation of plastic bags. Being light in weight, even the slightest wind can cause these bags to land up in and pollute wells, lakes, ponds, rivers, oceans and seas forever. Plastic bags also end up being eaten up by marine and land animals, leading to fatal consequences.
Burning of plastic has already degraded air quality in major Indian cities. Destroying plastic by incineration releases dioxins and other microscopic plastic particles containing carcinogens. These major pollutants continue to remain in the air, endangering life on earth forever and causing a bevy of respiratory illnesses.
Tones of plastic debris are mindlessly being dumped into oceans, and reappearing on our coasts. In Mumbai alone, nearly 2.8 lakh kg of plastic waste was removed in just five hours from Versova Beach. Even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their hazardous chemicals. Phytoplankton form the foundation of the aquatic food chain. These primary producers nourish everything from microscopic, animal-like zooplankton to the largest whales, which is proving to be a ticking time bomb for survival of all species.
As per a Mumbai Mirror report dated 21st June 2018: If plastic pollution is not controlled, oceans will have more plastic than fish by 2050. Every year around 8 million tones of plastic end up in the oceans of which 60% comes from India. India’s consumption of plastic as per the
Plastic Infrastructure report 2017 is 12.8 million tones per year and an alarming 4.6 lakh tones is from Maharashtra alone making it the country’s biggest generator of plastic waste.
How can this issue be tackled? To begin with, let us:
} Stop accepting plastic bags from retailers and use cotton or paper bags instead.
} Start educating children about the dangers of plastic and help them go-green.
} Encourage kids to make paper bags for their families as a hobby in their free time.
The fact remains that it’s time to conduct a reality check and curb this menace once and for all. If each and every one of us joins this fight, then only can we be victorious. Else, plastic will remain and only our planet won’t!