Plastics, one of the most widely used material in our everyday life, due to its immense popularity and structural properties, has started to gather a lot of negative attention. The 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.
Thousands 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 made of plastic. If you read the label carefully, you can easily find instructions of where to dispose of such packages so they can be sent for proper recycling and reuse, but who reads the label anyway?!
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 are killing animals, polluting our rivers and oceans, and accumulating in our landfills with no plans to leave.
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.
To solve these problems and come out with a proper solution, humans created plastics. Plastics are nothing but polymers made up of different monomer structures to create a long-lasting film which has several barrier properties and abilities to keep the contents inside fresh for a longer period. After the origin of plastics in the early 19th Century, the food wastage across the world has substantially gone down. Lesser trees were cut to make packaging material, thus reducing an individual’s carbon footprint; allowing us to exist on the surface of the earth for a little longer.
The use of plastics increased at a pace we could not imagine. Packaging, furniture, kitchen utensils, home décor, and many more things we use regularly were replaced by plastic alternatives due to their cost-effectiveness, lightweight 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.
According to Mr 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 lives 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 regulations which define the kind of waste which needs to be disposed of separately for segregation and recycling. Each home should have two different dustbins for in-house waste segregation. Children should be educated on the use of plastic, and collection centres for waste plastic can be established in schools.
Yes, plastic is a material which requires special care while being disposed and it has become a menace in the current scenario, but it can’t be denied that we are falling short on creating better, more eco-friendly alternatives to this unique polymeric substrate. So our aim should be to utilize our plastic waste properly, rather than waging war on plastic without realizing the effects of other alternatives on our environment and our existence.
The above article was first published here.