Q) “There has been an increase in the usage of Single use plastic after the corona outbreak.” In this light, illustrate the adverse impact of single use plastic and approach to treat this issue.
Single-use plastic is a form of plastic that is disposable, which is only used once and then has to be thrown away or recycled. The single-use plastic items include plastic bags, water bottles, soda bottles, straws, plastic plates, cups, most food packaging and coffee stirrers.
Impact of Single Use Plastic
It can take thousands of years for plastic bags to decompose, thus contaminating our soil and water in the process. The noxious chemicals used to produce plastic get transmitted to animal tissue, and finally, enter the human food chain.
Birds usually confuse shreds of plastic bags for food and end up eating the toxic debris. Fish consume thousands of tons of plastic in a year, ultimately transferring it up the food chain to marine mammals.
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) claims that a person could be consuming 5 grams of plastic a week. Plastic kills an estimated 1 million seabirds every year and affects around 700 species, which get infected by ingesting plastics.
According to the Un-Plastic Collective Report, an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s, about 60% of which has ended up either in a landfill or the natural environment.
In 2019, a new report “Plastic and Climate” was published. According to the report, in 2019, production and incineration of plastic will contribute greenhouse gases in the equivalent of 850 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere.
In current trend, annual emissions from these sources will grow to 1.34 billion tonnes by 2030.
By 2050, plastic could emit 56 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, as much as 14 percent of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.
Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water sources and also the ecosystem of the world. This can cause serious harm to the species that drink the water.
- Marine life:
Entanglement in plastic debris has been responsible for the deaths of many marine organisms, such as fish, seals, turtles, and birds.
These animals get caught in the debris and end up suffocating or drowning. Because they are unable to untangle themselves, they also die from starvation or from their inability to escape predators.
Some compounds that are used in plastics, such as phthalates, Bisphenol A (BRA), Poly Brominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE), are under close statute and might be very hurtful.
The large dosage of these compounds is hazardous to humans, destroying the endocrine system.
BRA imitates the female’s hormone called estrogen. PBDE destroys and causes damage to thyroid hormones, which are vital hormone glands that play a major role in the metabolism, growth and development of the human body.
Approach to treat this issue include
One way to approach the issue is to treat it not just as an environmental problem but also as an economic opportunity.
In Uganda, they are melting plastic waste to make face shields, which are being sold for just a dollar each.
In Singapore, start-ups are using stainless steel cups and bamboo boxes, which can be returned and reused after being washed and sanitised.
Village communities are setting up the waste collection and segregation systems, with material recovery facilities at the block- level under phase 2 of the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen).
- It will require considerable nudging and support from the government to push manufacturers to develop products and packaging with use-for-use alternative materials.
The government may also have to provide support by enabling market access for such products, which if left to their own will face tough competition from cheaper plastic counterparts.
Furthermore, retail units will need to pitch in by using price incentives to encourage consumers to reduce demand for plastic packaging.
- Finally, it will boil down to consumer participation. People will have to adopt more responsible consumption choices even if it entails inconvenience.
- Recycling and reusing plastic needs to be strengthened to bring back used plastic into the manufacturing cycle. This strategy will achieve the twin goal of reducing entry of virgin plastics into the market, as well as reducing plastic waste burden in waste dumps, landfills, and oceans.
- It‘s a responsibility they are advised to share with consumers by empowering them with choices and knowledge, perhaps by investing in improved packaging design and labeling.
- A recent push by NITI Aayog to make use of 25 per cent recycled materials in large construction projects compulsory comes at an opportune time.
- Coupled with the recommendation of designating one nodal ministry for the hitherto neglected recycling sector, this promises to be a significant step in the right direction.
True change is only possible when each one of us takes responsibility for the environment around us and takes necessary steps to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and, when all else fails, Remove, or dispose of plastic waste safely and effectively.