Plastic menace

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

The last few decades have been marked by increasing use of plastic products, especially single-use plastic. Being inexpensive and durable, plastic products have replaced many metals, natural fabric and wood products. Plastic production has crossed 400 million tons and is expected to surpass 600 million tons by 2025. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation due to increased use of masks, sanitizer bottles and online delivery packaging.

Half of the total plastic produced is for single-use purposes – utilized just once. These single-use plastic products include plastic water bottles, plastic carry bags, disposable plastic glasses, plates, spoons, straws, stirrers, wrappers, bottle caps, cigarette butts, etc. Additional single-use plastic in India comprises of millions of sachets packed with paan masala and gutkhas. About one trillion single-use plastic bags and half-a-billion plastic straws are used annually across the globe. Around 300 million tons of plastic waste is generated each year around the world; about 15 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the sea and the oceans. Our cities, towns and villages are full of plastic waste.

Plastic is not biodegradable and can take thousands of years to decompose. Most plastic waste ends up in landfills, are dumped into rivers, lakes, or oceans, or simply burnt. Plastic burning leads to contamination and pollution of the atmosphere. Plastic waste in landfills and oceans contaminates our soil and water bodies. The toxic chemicals used to manufacture plastic get transferred to animal tissue, eventually entering the human food chain. Plastic waste on land is affecting domestic and wild animals. In rivers and oceans, plastic waste has increased by endemic proportions and is directly affecting and threatening marine/aquatic life. Plastic waste leads to blockage of drains, sewers and streams. These blocked drains and sewers and landfills become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, flies, bacteria, etc, leading to spread of dreaded diseases.

The solution lies in a combination of state policies and public cooperation. Many countries and states are adopting and implementing policies by banning the use of single-use plastic and imposing heavy penalties. The direct way is by stopping manufacture of these products. Offices and organizations should be mandated to avoid using plastic water bottles, disposable plastic glasses, plastic files, plates, spoons, etc, at any meeting, seminar, gathering, etc. Food giants and hotel/restaurant chains should be mandated to avoid using stirrers and straws.

Public awareness must be created about carrying one’s own bags for shopping. The public should be sensitized about avoiding plastic water bottles, disposal plastic glasses, plates, spoons, etc, and about proper disposal of plastic waste.

Plastic waste is directly affecting all life forms and endangering Earth itself. Unless immediate steps are taken, the process of degradation of Earth may become irreversible. The government and the public must cooperate to tackle this clear and present danger. Let’s start today by carrying our own shopping bags and our own water bottles and avoiding using plastic water bottles, plastic carry bags, disposable plastic glasses, plates, spoons, etc. Let’s stop polluting our rivers and oceans, Mother Earth and ourselves. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)