Plastic : A Boon or Bane?

Whether you are aware of it or not, plastics play a big part in our day-to-day life. Plastic is used in everything from cell phone parts to doll parts and from soft drink bottles to the refrigerators they are stored in. More clothing is made out of polyester and nylon, both plastics, than cotton or wool. It’s used in food packaging, as building materials and most of our electronic devices. We wrap stuff in it and even eat or cook in it. From medical devices that keep blood flowing, joints moving and heart beating to impact-resistant vehicle parts, plastic saves lives every day. From the vehicle you ride to the television you watch; plastics are everywhere around us… quite literally!

Very few inventions in modern history have been as successful as plastic. It has resistance to corrosion & chemicals, low electrical & thermal conductivity, high strength-to-weight ratio, colours available in a wide variety, transparent, resistance to shock, good durability, low cost, easy to manufacture, resistant to water and so on. Due to which, the uses of plastic have grown exponentially huge in growing range of applications, especially over the past couple of decades. 

Plastic is everywhere not because it was better than the natural counterparts it replaced, but because it was lighter and cheaper; so much cheaper, in fact, that it was easier to justify throwing it away after use. Customers found this single-use or disposable plastic convenient, and businesses were happy to sell them a new plastic container for every beverage or sandwich they bought. Starting from a biscuit to chips to grocery, each & every eatable comes wrapped in plastic. People often leave stores with dozens of plastic bags that just get thrown away. 

But what happens to that beverage bottle or food container or shopping bag after we are done? It is disposed of as garbage, which eventually ends up in landfills or oceans or burnt. There it remains indefinitely.

The accumulation of plastic material in the Earth's environment is known as Plastic pollution. Plastic has toxic pollutants that damage the environment and cause land, water, and air pollution; adversely affecting wildlife, wildlife habitat and humans too!

Households generate maximum plastic waste, of which water & soft drink bottles form a large number. Very less of the total plastic waste is being recycled. Some plastics have fibres which shorten with every time it is recycled. Thus, a plastic can be recycled only few times before it is no longer recyclable. Such plastic ultimately finds their way to landfills or dumping yards.

Overuse of plastic is the main cause of plastic pollution. But it doesn’t decompose, and it releases an incredible amount of toxins into the air & water if they’re burned. It can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to break down, so the damage to the environment is long-lasting.

But, does plastic ever break down?

No one exactly knows how long plastic takes to break down, but it is believed to take hundreds or even thousands of years.

Most plastic items never fully disappear; they just get smaller and smaller (Microplastics). According to a recent report, plastic fragments have been found in the digestive tracts of animals in Mariana trench, the deepest part of the oceans. It is not just the accumulation of plastics that harms the environment - it is also the fragments and toxins released during decomposition that pollute our soil and water. Many of these tiny plastic particles are swallowed by farm animals or fish who mistake them for food. Surprisingly, plastic have also found their way onto our dinner plates. They’ve also been found in a majority of the world’s tap water. The findings illustrate how incredibly wide humanity’s impact on the planet has become. We are almost trapped in plastics. 

The seas near Mumbai and Kerala are among the worst polluted in the world. Plastic debris affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species, and 43% of all marine mammal species. If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

By clogging sewers and providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests, plastic waste - especially plastic bags - can increase the transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria or dengue.

In addition to harming plants, animals, and people, it costs billions of rupees every year for cleanup of areas exposed to plastic toxins. Many regions have seen a decrease in tourism because of the amount of pollution in their environment, which can have a serious impact on local economies.

Our Earth is drowning in plastic pollution. While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic - which have severe environmental consequences.

Are there any Solutions to the Plastic Pollution?

Unfortunately, we can’t remove or ban plastic completely. But we can definitely reduce the disposable plastic use. We, consumers can help fix the problem by making an effort to reduce plastic waste by using reusable bags while shopping. We have to change how we source our food (like buying more at local markets and from farmers), and to make retailers change their food sourcing practices (without plastic packaging). Likewise, drinking from a reusable water bottle instead of a disposable one, avoiding to-go containers like coffee-shops cups, straws and restaurants containers, avoiding to buy household products packed in plastic etc are great ways. After reducing plastic use as much as possible, one can send plastic to recycle. Jars, milk jugs, bottles, broken plastic housewares and even items like ink cartridges can be recycled. The waste-traders will be happy to do that and you will be delighted to make some money.

Even small changes in your day-to-day life can add up and greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment.

Plastic pollution has a big impact on the environment, but plastic waste isn’t unavoidable. Every time you make the choice to avoid or recycle plastic products, you lower the risk of environmental damage. Be conscious of your choices, and encourage those around you to think twice before they throw away plastic or buy unnecessary plastic items.

Waste is everybody's responsibility. A waste reduction strategy can be incorporated by each of us whether at home or at work by following the Reduce - Reuse - Recycle principle. This will not only reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfill, but turn waste into a resource & also save our fast depleting natural resources.

We need to slow the flow of plastic at its source, but we also need to improve the way we manufacture, use, recycle and how we manage our plastic waste to minimize its impact on our environment. Because right now, a lot of it ends up in the environment.

Remember, Plastic is the symptom. Our littering habits and irresponsible attitude towards waste generation is the disease. Plastics do not litter, We do!