We hate the term “non-biodegradability”, don’t we? Plastics, followed by plastic pollution sequenced by the death of animals, are what we see in trending newspaper posts. We all give so much importance to the term “non-biodegradability”, we say loads about plastic pollution, we write articles, encode statistics to reinforce the article just to make sure we don’t use plastics because of its non-biodegradability. But do we follow the protocol that we are putting down and uploading on a blog? I am not writing this to blame you because you hate the term, but to give you a fresh perspective on and about the word you dislike to such an extent.
Science had created plastics to make our life more accustomed to luxury. In terms of expense, usability, and durability, plastics do not have any replacement. Tell me something, if you go to a grocery shop and buy commodities worth a hundred rupees, will you buy a biodegradable plastic bag worth fifteen rupees? No, I mean even I won’t buy that.
Now, coming back to the term “non-biodegradability”, we always demand biodegradable things for what we call sustainable development. Let’s imagine a situation where our house is made up of biodegradable material and one fine day you wake up to see half of your house has been eaten by the bacteria. Would you encourage this? You are indeed taking a step towards sustainable development; But I guess you do not want the above hypothesis to come true. So here I state my first conclusion: We do not want everything to become biodegradable.
If we try to juxtapose plastics into the above scenario, the difference is in the fact that we don’t throw a house anywhere, every hour, like we do so with plastics. I have seen people dropping plastics bags from their apartments directly onto the road without having an infinitesimal amount of shame in them in Kolkata. The municipality has provided us with dustbins, trash collectors, and so many other facilities. We still do not use them. Well, so what happens when you drop these plastics bags? Several birds peck on these plastic bags thinking it as their food, and die. WWF has reported that in 2016, nearly 24.5% of the city’s birds have died due to consumption of plastic. Apart from these, we have domesticated animals like cows and dogs that consume these plastic bags and clog themselves, which leads to death. Moreover, these plastic bags which we throw out of our apartments amalgamate with our local drainage system which leads to clogging of the drain.
Let us pause for a while and introspect on the paragraph that you just read. Who do you think the culprit is? “non- biodegradability” or “the intelligent and one of the most evolved races – the humans”. This brings us to the second conclusion of: We are responsible for magnifying the impact of plastics and not the term bio-degradability.
Moving on, I had heard several people saying “Our Government should invest heavily in the Research and Development of Bio-Degradable Plastics.” Being a budding Polymer Science Engineer, I would like to comment that we have developed varieties of biodegradable plastic carry bags. But would you buy the same for twenty rupees from the shop in contrast to where you can get a polyethylene carry bag for just twenty paise?
The answer is ‘no’. You won’t. This superposes us to the third conclusion of: Cost Matters to us. If we assume the third assertion to be true, why do we have to buy plastic bags for even twenty paise? In twenty years of my life, if I assume I had visited the commodity shops for one lakh times, I could have saved approximately twenty thousand if I would have refused that polyethylene bag. Umm… that’s huge I guess.
This concludes the entire perspective with a single word: ‘Reuse’.
The author is a final year student of the Department of Polymer Science and Technology, University of Calcutta.