Plastic is everywhere! It is in our homes, our entertainment areas, our work areas… just everywhere, you would probably wearing plastic right now your spectacles or watch with plastic components. Plastic is essential to daily lives. Plastics offer a wide range of properties that are of great use to manufacturers. Take a walk just around your house, you will see a huge number of plastics all around you.
If you walk into a kitchen, you will see the handles of your pan are made of plastic or the handle of your knives, many of you may even have plastic glasses and plates. Many people store their sugar/salt, etc. in plastic containers. The yoghurt bought from the market, is stored in plastic cups and covered with foil. The inside of cans are usually lined with polymer to prevent gas from escaping pressurised soda bottles and cans. That cheese you like, that too is covered in plastic wrap. Is it just me, or do you are receive your sandwich in PVC cling foil? Go to your bathroom. You will notice that most of the shampoo and soap are kept in plastic tubes, your toothbrushes are made of plastic, your bucket and mug to shower is plastic. In your room, you will see your chargers are covered with plastic, your television, your furniture is probably made of plastic foam too. All this plastic from not even half our house, imagine what would be outside! Plastic is used extensively for building transport and sporting gear to increase efficiency and speed. It is used in building electronic devices, packaging medicines, making syringes, etc. The list is never ending.
Plastics are indispensable and it is practically impossible to live without them! Imagine waking up every morning without checking your phone or your pan handle is burning while you are cooking because it was made out of wood and caught fire? Now imagine living in a world without any plastic… disturbing, right? This is how important plastics are to us.
The very first plastics were in fact made by nature. It was rubber from the rubber tree. The first fully synthetic plastic was invented in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. And thus came the advent of the plastic era, which took off rapidly during World War – II as a replacement for scarce natural resources like ivory and tortoise shells. This was because plastics provided replenishable alternatives to other expensive and rare resources. Other synthetic materials like nylon and Plexiglas.
‘’In product after product, market after market, plastics challenged traditional materials and won, taking the place of steel in cars, paper and glass in packaging and wood and furniture’’ said author, Susan Freinkel. Plastic had begun to take over the world. Plastic debris in the ocean was first found in the 1960s. Off the Californian coast a major oil spill occurred in 1969 causing fire and polluting the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. These incidents started raising questions about pollution due to use of plastic.
Experiments prove that plastics present in the oceans, digested by aquatic animals, block their digestive system and mess their feeding behaviour. These animals, then consumed by humans affects us too. Animals unknowingly eat plastic and may die. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has often been described as a ‘’swirl of plastic garbage the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean.’’ Around 10% by weight of municipal stream is plastic. During the monsoons in Mumbai in the year 2018, 9 metric tonnes of trash (mostly plastic) washed up on the Marine Drive seashore due to a high tide.
Synthetic plastic is not biodegradable, it accumulates in landfills and pollutes the environment. Most of the plastics are derived from oil, natural gas and coal. They are non-renewable resources. According to UN statistics, if current trends continue then by the year 2050, the plastic industry could be responsible for about 20% of the world’s oil consumption. This will affect the future generations very badly. They will not have oil to use for transportation or maybe, not even enough to light a fire to keep warm.
Only about 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Approximately, 12% has been incinerated and the other 79% has filled landfills, dumps or just littered here and there. About 8 million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the world’s cities to the marine environment.
Plastic has become a municipal nightmare, forcing governments to ban the use of plastic. A similar ban has been put in Maharashtra very recently. It requires people to stop using plastic items completely or pay a fine of Rs.5000! Personally, I feel that this is a big step to a greater and more cleaner tomorrow and I hope that this movement is a success. There are regulatory bodies like the Bureau of India Standards and International Standards Organisations which watch over the use of plastic at an industrial level. Government officials should go on miscellaneous rounds every now and then to oversee the use of plastic at a local level which will be very efficient in reducing the rate of plastic.
In buildings too, the residents have started taking steps to safely discard plastic. Residents should separate their garbage into wet waste and dry waste. The wet waste should contain biodegradable waste which should be made into compost. The dry waste should be sent for recycling whichever items can be recycled. Symbiotic Recycling is also a smart alternative. Plastics can be recycled or the latent energy in it can be recovered through scientific incineration. At times, alternatives to plastic have a higher use of energy, water and/or chemicals. These are topics that should be more focused on and studied further.
Researchers are working on improving the sustainability of plastics by making them from plant crops instead of fossil fuels, while some are finding ways to make them 100% biodegradable and some are working on making recycling more efficient, maybe even convert them back to fossil fuels. As our contribution, we must find ways to get rid of plastic or even replace it with environmentally-friendly materials like paper, wood, glass, etc.
This year, the United Nations has started a new campaign called #BeatPlasticPollution. A few ways of reducing plastics are: using non-plastic packaging, getting your own shopping bags to the supermarkets, refusing plastic cutlery and straws, carrying refillable bottles instead of one time use bottles, picking up any plastic that one sees on the streets and supporting the ban on single-use plastic bags.
Plastic containers are usually made of BPA. BPA is also an endocrine disruptor. To benefit one’s health and to reduce the plastic in the world, plastic containers can be replaced by glass containers. Cardboard can be used in place of plastic, so that it can be replaced easily. Plastic microbeads in cosmetics should be avoided. Metal razors should be preferred over plastic razors, using wire or wooden hangers instead of the plastic hangers are some methods.
For the artistic minds out there, we can make many crafts out of it. I remember going for an exhibition earlier this year. In that, the people were selling fairy lights made out of the top part of single use plastic bottles. They were wrapped in colourful paper and then small bulbs were fitted in it. A friend of mine, collected plastic waste and made table mats out of them. I have even seen benches being made out of plastic. As a child, I would love to cut the bottom half of the Pepsi bottles that mother used to buy for parties and paint them different colours and use them as pen-holders. To make bowling pins, one can just fill the bottle with sand to make it heavy, tape the top to seal it and decorate it according to their choice. This is super interesting to make and very cheap and even more satisfactory to play with! With today’s advanced technology and tech savvy people, one can find numerous crafts using plastic with just a click of the mouse. In schools, teachers could have internal competition to see the most creative pen-holder to grow enthusiasm in the children.
Bisleri organises an annual plastic collection drive as a competition between schools as to which school collects most plastic to reuse. This helps Bisleri collect a lot of plastic to recycle and the schools some healthy competition. Such competitions hit 2 targets with one arrow, they are very useful. Thus, they should also be promoted. This competition takes place in my school too and it is a lot of fun for the whole school to work as a team to achieve one goal. There should be more of such competitions.
These are just a few ways that I feel that we can reduce plastics, if one puts their mind to it, there will be hundreds of other methods to reduce plastics! Let’s be one of the first countries in the world to become anti-plastic or else the seas will have more plastics than fish by 2050, who’s with me?
____________________________________________________________________________________________LET US TAKE A PLEDGE,
I, as an individual pledge to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic
I will encourage others around me to also give up plastic to the
best of my abilities,
I will do my level best to make our environment a plastic-free zone.
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