- What are single-use plastics and how harmful they are?
- How do we get rid of the plastic problem?
- Are there any new ways to collect plastics and get rid of it?
- Are we aware of the medical consequences of the plastics?
- Way Forward
[RSTV The Big Picture] How to get rid of the plastic mess?
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- Prime minister on the occasion of Independence Day urged the people of India to shun the single-use plastics (SUP)and encouraged the usage of Jute and cloth bags to protect the environment.
- At the same time, he urges the startups to find ways to recycle plastics such as using it and building highways.
- He appealed to shopkeepers to have boards in front of the shops saying ‘please bring cloth bags from home or take them from us at a price’.
- In 2018, on World Environment Day, the government had announced its intention to phase out single-use plastic like straws and cups by the year 2022.
What are single-use plastics and how harmful they are?
- In simple terms, single-use plastics are common plastic materials like cup, bottles and straw which are used only once by the user and thrown into the environment after that.
- Plastics do not decay due to their resisting characteristics and therefore, they continue to stay or remain in the environment for a long time and create havoc.
- In today’s environment, plastics have become ubiquitous and found everywhere ranging from the greatest depth of the oceans to top peaks of the Himalayas.
- Plastics became popular since the 1960s and within the five decades, plastics have covered the whole world.
- In daily lives, single-use plastics are causing harm to environment as it is taken to a large ocean region from drains, from which, the animals like cow eats them and face stomach problem leading to death.
- The whole ecosystem is being affected by the SUPs. It is reaching aquatic or water system from land.
- In the North Pacific Ocean, there is a very big garbage dump, Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), which is floating and increasing in size. GPGP is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. It is located halfway between Hawaii and California.
- The snow recovered from Antarctic, Norwegian and Greenland has traces of microplastics. It proves that SUP, due to the fractions of plastics generated, is getting converted into microplastics for which we do not have even adequate measures of estimation.
- Moreover, the airborne microplastics can cause adverse health impacts on human body while breathing.
- It is not the cost of the high plastics but the cost of its implications on health, environment and overall ecosystem is way unimaginable. For that, the economy has to set right in the first place.
How do we get rid of the plastic problem?
- Once considered a ‘miracle product’ on the discovery, it is now seen as the deadliest product out there, in our lives.
- Probably the best solution lies for the plastic waste is devising a good collection system and looking for alternatives which does not harm the environment too much.
- Around 60% of the plastic generated in India are collected in India for waste disposal, compared to 16-18% of global average.
- If we have to ban the plastics, then India needs to promote the alternatives. The alternatives include aluminum packaging, jute and cloth bags and revival of glass bottling. However, due to increased cost in using alternative such glass bottling, it is not much promoted.
- India is quite behind in managing plastic waste. The only problem today is to find technological solutions like destroying plastic without segregation. There is this kind of technology used in other countries which we need to bring in India.
- Some suggest that plastic should be used in other application such as in road making. However, merely removing plastic would not solve problem as after wear and tear, the micro plastic generated will cause another problem.
- There is need to increase the capability of researching the source of plastics. There are large number of alternatives possible provided they will be funded adequately.
- In nutshell, there is need to adopt twofold approach: i) Destroying the existing plastic through existing technologies in which low pollution is caused ii) Getting into the depth of each type of plastics and start replacing that at the industry level.
Are there any new ways to collect plastics and get rid of it?
- Industries will need to build the incentive system for plastic collection and fund the collection.
- India has an informal system of collection of plastics and even there, some of the plastics are collected and some are left because of incentive issues. For example, PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottle are collected as they have higher values compared to other polymers.
- Nowadays, in many cities, large plastic manufactures are paying plastic collectors for collecting Multilayer plastics (MLPs).
- The MLPs can used and co-processed in cement kilns as alternate fuels.
Are we aware of the medical consequences of the plastics?
- The Indian government, industries, academia and NGOs etc. have to do the cost-benefit analysis associated with plastics. For example, a water bottle doesn’t cost just Rs 20 as the costs associated with the waste recovery as well as implications on health make it much costlier.
- There are 130 types of plastics and there is no talk about that because we do not see them in the market.
- Saudi Arabia is investing in India to produce more petrochemical product and plastics. Therefore, we are gradually becoming the largest economy which produces plastic and the largest consumer too.
- We cannot burn the plastics as burning will create carcinogenic gases (cancer causing gases). Hence, plastics are difficult substance to destroy which are synthesized from petroleum. Removing plastic will also remove the mining of petroleum, reduce the transportation and refining cost and air and water pollution in one go.
- Even United Nation Environment programme has declared the theme on 2018 environment day as ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’, showing the seriousness of the problem.
- Rather than worrying about research and studies on plastics harms and alternatives, there are very simple solutions available which should be applied for getting rid of plastics.
- A very big campaign can be organized where the harmful effects of plastics, its alternatives available and simple steps can be discussed, debated and made people aware of.
- The people should be motivated by incentivizing them to bring their own dispensers and bags in shop and grocery stores.
- The reverse vending machines could be set up. These machines accept used beverages container and return money to the user. For example, 5 machines have already been set up in Delhi and Bangalore.
- The fight with plastics should go on until we find a stable solution for its overall management.