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War Against Plastic

  • Category
    Ecology and Environment
  • Published
    14th Jun, 2019
  • Today, 13,000,000 tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean every year, what among other damage, kill 100,000 marine animals annually.
  • The theme for this year's World Oceans Day is 'gender for the ocean', handling plastic pollution in oceans remains the biggest task in front of everyone. Once it enters the ocean, plastic can take almost 500 years to biodegrade.

Issue

Context:

  • Today, 13,000,000 tonnes of plastic leak into the ocean every year, what among other damage, kill 100,000 marine animals annually.
  • The theme for this year's World Oceans Day is 'gender for the ocean', handling plastic pollution in oceans remains the biggest task in front of everyone. Once it enters the ocean, plastic can take almost 500 years to biodegrade.

About:

Plastic pollution is when plastic has gathered in an area and has begun to negatively impact the natural environment and create problems for plants, wildlife, and even the human population.

Often this includes killing plant life and posing dangers to local animals. Plastic is an incredibly useful material, but it is also made from toxic compounds known to cause illness, and because it is meant for durability, it is not biodegradable.

Background:

  • Plastic is everywhere, even on those items you may not expect it to be. Milk cartons are lined with plastic, water bottles are handed out everywhere, and some products may even contain tiny plastic beads.
  • Commercial fishing is an economic necessity for many parts of the world, and tons of people eat fish for their daily survival.
  • However, this industry has helped contribute to the problem of plastics pollution in the oceans in several ways. The nets used for certain large-scale trolling operations are usually made of plastic.
  • First, these spend long times submerged in water, leaking toxins at will, but they also often get broken up or lost, left to remain wherever they fall.
  • This not only kills and harms local wildlife, but also ensures that pollutants enter the water and fish of the area.

Analysis

Plastic is meant to last, it is nearly impossible to break down. Burning plastic is incredibly toxic, and can lead to harmful atmospheric conditions and deadly illness. Therefore, if it is in a landfill, it will never stop releasing toxins in that area.

Serious Effects of Plastic Pollution

It upsets the Food Chain: While most plastics are expected to remain intact for decades or centuries after use, those that do erode end up as micro-plastics, consumed by fish and other marine wildlife, quickly making their way into the global food chain.

Groundwater Pollution: Water conservation is already a concern in places ranging from California to parts of India, but the world’s water is in great danger because of leaking plastics and waste. Groundwater and reservoirs are susceptible to leaking environmental toxins.

Many lakes and oceans have reported alarming cases of plastic debris floating on water surfaces, affecting a great number of aquatic creatures. It leads to dreadful consequences to marine creatures that swallow the toxic chemicals.

Besides, the hazardous plastic chemicals contaminate water and reduce its quality. Estimations reveal the existence of billions of tons of plastics in swirling convergences constituting about 40% of the globe’s oceanic surfaces.

Land Pollution: When plastic is dumped in landfills, it interacts with water and form hazardous chemicals. When these chemicals seep underground, they degrade the water quality. Wind carries and deposits plastic from one place to another, increasing the land litter. It can also get stuck on poles, traffic lights, trees, fences, tower etc. and animals that may come in the vicinity and might suffocate them to death.

Air Pollution: Burning of plastic in the open air, leads to environmental pollution due to the release of poisonous chemicals. The polluted air when inhaled by humans and animals affect their health and can cause respiratory problems.

Plastic pollution poses even greater impacts on the environment because of its widespread usage and its durability component.

The global plastic consumption throughout the globe was approximated at 260 million tons in 2008, and it was predicted to be more than 300 tons in 2015 – according to the Global Industry Analysts.

These plastics wind up negatively affecting wildlife habitat, wildlife, and humans by affecting lands, oceans, and waterways.

Wildlife and marine creatures at times confuse plastics wastes for food, affecting them when ingested or may be exposed to the toxic chemicals present in the plastics that can cause biological upsets. Human biological functions are also affected by the plastic’s toxic chemicals.

Implications for Human Health

Plastics are made up of a variety of toxic chemicals. As such, its uses and exposure are associated with a number of human health concerns. Chemicals leached from the plastics contain compounds like polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), bisphenol A (BPA), and phthalates. These chemicals have been established to upset the endocrine system and thyroid hormones and can be very destructive to women of reproductive age and young children

Global Initiatives to Ban or Reduce Consumption of Single-Use Plastics

By Governments:

  • Seychelles has banned the importation of single-use plastic straws
  • Britain has announced its intention to ban the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds
  • In Taiwan, from 2020, free plastic straws will be banned from all food and beverage outlets.
  • Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted.
  • The Chinese government responded to widespread plastic pollution by banning distribution of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and shops around the country.
  • In January 2018, the European Commission adopted the first-ever European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. The plan seeks to eliminate plastic pollution and change the way plastics are produced and consumed in the EU with a focus on plastic bags, other single-use plastics, and fishing materials.

 By Business:

  • In 2018, Alaska Airlines removed all non-recyclable plastic stir straws and citrus picks and replacing them with sustainable, marine-friendly alternatives on all domestic and international flights.
  • In January 2018, UK-based Costa Coffee announced that it “will remove plastic drinking straws from its stores.
  • Ikea is to phase out all single-use plastic products from its stores and restaurants by 2020.

Plastic Pollution Coalition is a growing global alliance of more than 750 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 60 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and the environment.

The government of India is treading a judicious path - controlling toxicity of the plastics and also utilizing its efficacy for the growth and development efforts:

  • Plastics have been used in cars since 1950s—originally in sports cars to improve agility and to increase speed. Today, plastics help make cars safer and more efficient since they are present in crucial safety areas such as seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones.
  • Carbon fiber reinforced plastic can absorb 6–12 times as much energy as steel since 10% weight reduction in vehicles can increase fuel economy by 8%, making carbon fiber-reinforced plastics a great choice for automakers. India is expected to have the fourth largest auto components industry by 2025.
  • One of the latest technologies i.e. 3D printing is used for making the complex geometry of plastics components easily. This is the technology where replicates of artificial, functional human parts can be made. These days, tissue engineering and implants fully rely upon the plastic materials.
  • No doubt, the plastic industry clearly plays a vital role in the growth of Indian economy. The average consumption of plastics is roughly 13 kilograms per capita per year.
  • The country's plastics industry also offers immense potential in terms of capacity, infrastructure and skilled manpower. India is currently ranked among the top five consumers of polymers in the world and has 30,000 plus plastic processing units employing over four million people across the country.
  • CIPET (Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology) acts as a bridge to fill the technological gap between the Indian and global polymer industries.
  • In line with the change in industrial environment and needs of the industries, CIPET needs to constantly upgrade and update its facilities with latest technological developments in the field of Polymer Science & Technology for the benefit of Indian polymer industries to compete globally.
  • It may focus more on developing indigenous technologies and innovations on products in order to support automotive, aerospace and health care industries to facilitate export growth.

Way forward:

  • Plastics are a necessary evil. Due to their extensive utility and affordability it is difficult to completely remove them from the economy.
  • Besides providing higher ‘strength to weight’ ratio as compared to conventional materials, a life-cycle analysis of plastic products indicates that these substances not only save significant amounts of energy and water but also emit lower quantum of green house gases
  • More than ban, sustainable use and waste re-cycling is the need of the hour.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

“Plastics and plastic-based products have become an integral part of the global economy; there is a need to create awareness and educate people on the need to recycle, re-purpose and reuse plastic items”. Discuss the methodology which can be employed and evaluate the options available - at India as well as global level.

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