Its true when they say, “Experience is an eye opener” because that one incident changed my life forever. One day while I was on my way to a supermarket, I got stuck in traffic. When I looked out of the car window nonchalantly, I noticed a cow, munching on something that looked like a cotton candy. When I looked closer I gasped as I realised that she was chewing on a pink PVC bag that she must’ve mistaken to be food. I couldn’t fathom the fact that this could probably kill that innocent being and I though to myself how selfish mankind has become to put the animals through such trauma. Despite knowing how dangerous plastic is to living beings, no care is taken to protect them from such hazards. I was furious thinking what is the purpose of segregation of waste if ultimately all the items are going to be dumped in the same place that finally ends up in landfills, oceans or in the bodies of living beings.
With thoughts still storming in my head, I stepped inside the supermarket. For the first time in my entire life I realised something that appalled me to the core. I felt as if I was standing amidst a plastic myriad and that there was no escape from it. Everything as far as the eye could see was covered in colourful plastic packaging and it struck me that it wasn’t even 0.000001% of the plastic waste that was going to be generated that day on earth. Where does all this plastic waste go? Can I buy a product without it being covered in layers and layers of plastic? I knew my answer. We humans are trapped in this situation where-in, in order to survive on this earth, we have no choice but to exploit it. That’s how helpless we are. Reluctantly, I bought a packet of cookies and paved my way out.
I wish it was that easy to walk out of this “plastic trap”, I thought to myself. We can’t ignore the facts of why plastic is so widely used. PVCs, polyethylene, polypropylenes etc are economical, hygienic, no reactive and highly durable, which makes it hard to be replaced. It is so durable that if we happen to bury a plastic bottle today, there are chances we may find it intact eons later and that can be the most lethal thing for living beings. But as they say, “Turn your weakness into your strength”, we can use that deadly aspect of plastic to make something that can change our lives for the better.
Waste plastic can be considered as a boon in the construction industry, if used strategically. Being a civil engineer myself, I have seen a lot of papers where the use of plastic in the building construction is studied. Some are revolutionary and can be beneficial in the long run. It has been studied that, during the construction of roads and highways, small plastic fibres generated by shredding plastic bottles and PVC bags can be mixed with bitumen, which form a strong bond with each other. This is not just a smart solution to plastic disposal but also significantly improves the strength of road and lasts upto 13 times longer than the standard roads. As per studies, it uses upto one tonne of plastic for every 10km road stretch and saves thousands of rupees of initial cost. Now that’s how wealth is created.
Plastic is a malleable material and can be moulded into any shape. That aspect gives rise to many more possibilities. Polyvinyl chloride bags can be melted in a furnace under controlled conditions at 3000 degrees celsius and can be moulded into any desired form ranging from beautiful floor tiles to marble finish tabletops, the possibilities are endless. These products not only will be aesthetic looking, but they will also increase employment and can generate revenue whilst taking care of the waste. These can be great alternatives to the expensive stones and marble and will help us conserve our nature! Studies have shown that when Plastic waste was used as a modifier in the construction industry, it reduced the quantity of much controversial cement and sand thereby decreasing the overall construction cost.
Nevertheless, it can be concluded that, even though plastic is hazardous in its nature causing a threat to our ecosystem, we can still win the battle against it by working out ways in which we can modify the existing practices to work towards a brighter and better tomorrow. Needless to say, it’s the mankind that has created this plastic problem and it should be the mankind to take care of it. The limitless possibilities of use of plastic waste is a testimony of how we can tackle the global waste management problem by converting this wealth into waste. I believe, segregation, salvage and save should be our new mantra, where we shall together save our planet and help our ecosystem thrive for millions of years.