The invention of Plastic changed the face of the Earth. It saw the light of the day in 1869 when John Wesley Hyatt synthesised the first polymer to replace ivory. Ivory was costly and animals were culled for its production. Then came Bakelite, the first fully synthesised plastic, produced in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. Since then we have come a long way. We started small but now we have an assortment of plastics. It has become an inseparable part of our lives. Once a celebrated invention has become a burden on our planet.
Threats from plastic that are raising concerns worldwide include the following-
—Plastics does not decompose easily and hence remains in the environment for a long time.
—If they are incinerated during waste disposal, toxic fumes are produced directly into the atmosphere like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls apart from soot (carbon).
— Plastics serve as a surface for the transport of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to aquatic animals. POPs are organic chemical substances that remain in the environment for a long duration.
—It can be consumed by animals leading to death. The news about finding plastics in beached whale carcass is frequent. The weight of plastic inside large whales often leads to drowning induced death.
—Microplastics which are plastic pieces smaller than 5mm are major pollutants. Through this plastics enter into the food chain because microplastics can be consumed by fishes, which in turn are consumed by others fishes or by humans. In a recent study, microplastics were found in the human placenta.
— Microplastics like Bisphenol A (BPA) can act as endocrine disruptors (ED’s). This means that plastic can cause hormonal imbalances. It affects sex hormones in humans and can disrupt menstrual cycles in females.
— Reduces soil fertility
— Reduces water seepage into the ground affecting groundwater level
Actions to curb single-use plastic
In the past, the government resorted to banning single-use plastic. This failed to achieve the desired target of zero plastic. Perhaps a new way of doing things is the need of the hour. A behavioural nudge can do wonders. Its efficacy was proved during Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. It includes incentivising actions that promotes voluntary avoidance of Plastic use. This can be done via awareness generation and educating young minds to become responsible adults.
Legislation can facilitate phasing out the plastic. Draft Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2021 were recently released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. It aims at phasing out single-use plastic in three phases. A circular economy that is based on the concept of recycling and reusing, is another solution. India collaborated with Australia to work in tandem and develop a circular economy.
Globally actions like the Stockholm Convention on POP’s and the latest UNEP’s counterMEASURE are steps that work against plastic. Many non-governmental organisation and individuals have raised their voices against the burgeoning issue of plastic pollution. In the end, the people have to be the final piece of the puzzle that can solve the problem.
Today we are on the cusp of a big transition. We have a choice that will decide our future- a choice to eliminate the use of single-use plastic or continue to live unsustainably. The right choice today will give the generation next shot at living a good life, enjoying the luxuries that we enjoy.