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Plastics: A raging war with no end

Sep 01, 2019

Going back to the start of an era, plastics were engineered to solve several problems that we humans were facing back then.

New Delhi: Plastics, one of the most widely used material in our everyday life due to its immense popularity and structural properties; has off lately been in the limelight for all the negative reasons. These properties which make the material optimum for a plethora of applications also cause plastics to remain in the system and not decompose for thousands of years.

Almost 90% of products in the market today are packaged in plastic, the major chunk of which is acquired by consumer durables and personal care products. Every cream you buy, every pack of chips, every biscuit pack and packaged beverages you enjoy in the scorching heat are packed into plastic containers. If you read their labels carefully, you can easily find instructions of where to dispose them off, for them to be sent for proper recycling and reuse; but who reads the label anyways!

Well, our inability to take things seriously have landed us in a situation where, if reports are to be believed, there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. While we are enjoying our packet of chips, reading articles on the plastic menace on the internet and tweeting about the #WarOnPlastic with utmost enthusiasm; the world is still getting filled with plastic packets and bottles, which is killing animals, polluting our rivers & oceans, and accumulating in our landfills.

Going back to the start of an era, plastics were engineered to solve several problems that we humans were facing back then. Other alternatives to plastic then were Glass, Wood and Paper. Glass for starters, requires immense heat to be formed, is extremely heavy and fragile; thus increasing the cost for transportation and our carbon footprint. Wood and paper, on the other hand, are derived from trees, the same trees that we need for our existence. Cutting down more trees to replace plastics will get us closer to the already unavoidable catastrophe- but at a much faster pace.

In order to solve these problems and come out with a proper solution, plastics were created by humans. Plastics are nothing but polymers made up of different monomer structures to create long-lasting films; which have several barrier properties and abilities to keep the contents inside fresh for a longer period of time. After the origin of plastics in the early 19thCentury, the food wastage across the world has substantially gone down. Lesser trees were cut to make packaging material, thus reducing an individuals’ carbon footprint; allowing us to exist on the surface of the earth for a little longer. Plastics have solved several problems, with one of the biggest problem being transportation. Containers made from plastic are lighter and are not fragile when compared to glass, thus saving a lot of cost which would otherwise go in transporting the packaged goods.

So where did the problem arise? The use of plastics increased at a pace we could not imagine. Packaging, Furniture, Kitchen Utensils, Home DĂ©cor and many more things we use regularly were replaced by plastic alternatives due to its lighter weight and better properties. With the magnanimous increase in the production of plastics, there should have been an equally stronger development for recycling of the substance, since we know it cannot be decomposed easily. But instead, we kept throwing our daily use plastics into our dustbins, and the government kept dumping them into landfills without realizing the depth of the upcoming Plastic menace.

Today, we stand at the crossroads with one way going towards better management plastic waste, and on the other side, banning plastic to give way to materials which are not healthy for our environment.

According to Rajagopalan Vasudevan, who is fondly called the Plastic Man of India, Plastics thrown into dump yards can be brought to better use to solve the current problem of plastic waste. In a circular economy, waste for one is gold for another. Similarly, used plastics can be re-used to make unbreakable roads, fuel for machines and tractors, Plastone tiles for home construction and to generate electricity. If we make small efforts in our everyday life to segregate plastics from our waste, it would be easier for the government to put this waste plastic to better use. The government should have norms which define the kind of waste which needs to be disposed separately for segregation and recycling. Each home should have two different dustbins for inhouse waste segregation. Children should be educated on the use of plastic, and collection centres for waste plastic can be established in such schools.

Plastic is currently a menace because we have failed to utilize something which can be easily recycled and reused into several application forms. If used and disposed correctly, plastic is nothing but a boon for our society. So our aim should be to properly utilize our plastic waste, rather than raging a war on plastic without realizing the effects of other alternatives on our environment and our existence.

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