The plastic industry, owing to its use in a wide variety of sectors, such as the automotive, construction, electronics, healthcare, and textiles, is amongst the fastest growing markets. 15342 tones of plastic is generated every day and we don’t know what to do with it.
As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) reports, plastic contributes to 8% of the total solid waste, with Delhi producing the maximum quantity followed by Kolkata and Ahmadabad.
Plastic pollution has become an epidemic. Every year, we throw away enough plastic to circle the Earth four times. Much of that waste doesn’t make it into a landfill, but instead ends up in our oceans, where it’s responsible for killing one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year.
Mostly, plastic waste is recyclable but recycled products are more harmful to the environment as this contains additives and colors. The recycling of a virgin plastic material can be done 2-3 times only, because after every recycling, the plastic material deteriorates due to thermal pressure and its life span is reduced. Hence recycling is not a safe and permanent solution for plastic waste disposal. It has been observed that disposal of plastic waste is a serious concern due to improper collection and segregation system.
Impact of Plastic Pollution:
A very small amount of total plastic production (less than 10%) is effectively recycled; the remaining plastic is sent to landfills, where it is destined to remain entombed in limbo for hundreds of thousands of years, or to incinerators, where its toxic compounds are spewed throughout the atmosphere to be accumulated in biotic forms throughout the surrounding ecosystems
- Soil Pollution: Plastic cannot biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. When buried in a landfill, plastic lies untreated for years. In the process, toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, flowing downstream into lakes and rivers. The seeping of plastic also causes soil pollution.
- Ocean Pollution: Since most of the plastic debris that reaches the ocean remains floating for years as it does not decompose quickly, it leads to the dropping of oxygen level in the water, severely affecting the survival of marine species.
- Health Degradation: 83% of our drinking water contains plastic. Studies show that consuming plastic could lead to cancer, effects on hormone levels, and heart damage. Plastics have been found in the blood of even new born babies
- Air Pollution: Burning of plastic in the open air, leads to environmental pollutiondue to the release of poisonous chemicals. The polluted air when inhaled by humans and animals affect their health and can cause respiratory problems.
- Hampers Food Chain: Because it comes in sizes large and small, polluting plastics even affect the world’s tiniest organisms such as plankton. When these organisms become poisoned due to plastic ingestion, this causes problems for the larger animals that depend on them for food. This can cause a whole slew of problems, each step further along the food chain.
Steps taken by Government to curb Plastic Pollution
As much as we close our eyes to the hazards of plastic, it is indeed a problem that is central to our continued existence on earth and requires immediate collaborative action before it is too late to save the planet.
- Reusables in Government Offices: On June 5, government offices in Kerala made the switch to ink pens and steel cutlery to ensure articles like plastic water bottles, disposable teacups and plastic carry bags are no longer used across the office premises. Mooted by the Suchitwa Mission and Haritha Keralam Mission, the idea envisioned by the concerned authorities was to make government departments set an example for a clean environment.
- Crackdown on Plastic Usage: Sikkim is the second smallest state in the country, and therefore, it had no scope for the creation of multiple landfill sites. In 1998, it became the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags, and in 2016, it took a significant step by banning the use of packaged drinking water in government offices and government events and the use of Styrofoam and thermocol disposable plates and cutlery across the entire state.
- Environment Ministry notifies Plastic Waste Management (amendment) rules in 2016:
The amended Rules lay down that the phasing out of Multilayered Plastic (MLP) is now applicable to MLP, which are “non-recyclable, or non-energy recoverable, or with no alternate use.”
- Prescribe a central registration systemfor the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner.
- Any mechanism for the registration should be automatedand should take into account ease of doing business for producers, recyclers and manufacturers.
- The centralized registration system will be evolved by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner.
- A National registryhas been prescribed for producers with presence in more than two states
- A state-level registrationhas been prescribed for smaller producers/brand owners operating within one or two states
- The World Environment Day 2018 was being celebrated on June 5, 2018 with the theme ‘Beat plastic pollution’ with India as the global host.
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently mentioned it in his radio show Mann ki baatand called for saving environment. But Mann ki baat wouldn’t yield any outcomes until it becomes Jan-jan ki baat and the citizens of India realise the drastic effects of plastic and feel the need for saving environment.
The reality is that the only way this problem can be addressed is by individuals and companies around the world agreeing to implement practices that reduce waste on every level. The top tips for reducing plastic waste are:
- Environment Friendly Shopping: Plastic bags were once a modern convenience but can be efficiently replaced by reusable bags, many of which fold up compactly in order to be portable. Just think about how many bags you typically carry out of a grocery store, and multiply that by the number of times you grocery shop. That’s a lot of plastic! Carry a bag and always reuse plastic bags as much as possible if you have them.
- Do not use Bottled water: People are meant to drink lots of water each day, and plastic water bottles have become a great way to stay hydrated throughout the day. However, most of these are only recommended for single use, and that means that every time someone finishes a bottle, it goes into the trash. Many companies now sell reusable water bottles as a substitute, reducing plastic waste and exposure to leaking bottles.
- Avoid To-Go Containers: You would be surprised at how much plastic is involved in the making and packaging of food containers. Think the coffee shop’s drink cup is paper? It’s likely lined with plastic for insulation (pour a cup of coffee on some cardboard and see what happens).
Plastic food containers, lids, and utensils are all easily replaced by reusable containers, which will cut down significantly on even a single meal’s waste.
- Low Cost Replacements: Speak to local restaurants and businesses about options that they can switch to for packaging, storing, and bagging items. Many companies are starting to come up with excellent low-cost replacements, such as bamboo utensils in place of plastic ones.
- Recycle and Reuse: Try and select items that come in non-plastic recycled and recyclable packaging, to do your best to properly handle items that can’t be reused. Check everything before you put it in the trash, as more and more items are able to be recycled these days.
- A detailed mapping of waste quantities, generation sources, and the associated characteristics is vital for the implementation of an effective plastic waste management mechanism in cities. ƒ
- Devising of a Plastic waste management plan and EPR models would lead to effective end use and optimized production. Additionally, ULBs may also explore decentralized (ward wise) waste management models to ensure an enhanced implementation as suggested by the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.
- Innovative funding mechanisms, incentives, subsidies for bio-based and recycled plastic product development, and other possible sustainable alternative solutions may help expedite the research and innovation capabilities along with market outreach.
- Awareness regarding harmful effects of plastic waste should be made known to students of the country so that attitude changes occurs in them at very early stage. Platforms like org and NGOs like Waste warriors and Parvaah.org are working in right direction to provide quality education and awareness to society regarding menace of plastic pollution.
The best way to reduce plastic pollution is to reduce and phase out its consumption. Solutions range from carrying your own reusable steel glass, box, spoon and cloth bag while eating out or shopping for groceries to using alternatives to plastic for household items.
Additionally, there should be research on ways to implement rules, waste generation quantities and trends and find innovative alternatives to plastic.
It is time we rethink, reduce, segregate and recycle every time we encounter a piece of plastic so that it stops damaging our environment and our lives.