Plastic hazard

[Flights Of Fantasy]

[M Panging Pao]

The last few decades have been marked by increased use of plastic products the world over. Technological advances have led to a quantum jump in the use of single-use plastic. Being inexpensive and durable, plastic products have replaced many metal, alloy and wood products. The world over, plastic production is touching over 400 million tons.

Fifty percent of the total plastic produced is for single-use purposes – utilised just once. These single-use plastic products include plastic water bottles, plastic carry bags, disposable plastic glasses/plates/spoons, straws and stirrers, toffee wrappers, bottle caps, cigarette butts, etc. Additional single-use plastic in India is the millions of sachets packed with paan masalas and ghutkas. 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, and about 15 million tons of plastic waste is dumped into the sea. Our cities, towns and villages are full of plastic waste.

The problem with plastic is that it is not biodegradable and it can take up to thousands of years for plastic to decompose. Most plastic waste end up in landfills, dumped into rivers/lakes/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 blockages of drains, sewers and streams. These blocked drains/sewers and landfills become breeding ground 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 organisations should be mandated to avoid using plastic water bottles, disposable plastic glasses, plates, spoons, etc, at any meeting, seminar, gathering, etc. Food giants, hotel/restaurants chains should be mandated to avoid using stirrers and straws.

Public awareness must be created about carrying own bags for shopping. Public should be sensitised to avoid plastic water bottles, disposable 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 state and the public must cooperate to tackle this clear and present danger. Let’s start today by carrying our own shopping bags, own water bottles, and avoid using plastic water bottles, plastic carry bags, disposable plastic glasses/plates/spoons, etc. Let’s stop polluting our rivers/oceans, Mother Earth and ourselves. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)