As the most advanced species known as of yet, humans have proved time and again that our combined effort can create magic and bring the most impossible of realities into existence. With such tremendous power in our hands, is it not high time that we rethink our priorities regarding what we produce, both for our consumption and as waste? Technological development has taken place by leaps and bounds in the last few decades itself, leaving humanity in a buzz with its unthinkable capabilities. The variety that life in the modern civilization has to offer has bedazzled us to such an extent that we are always running for novelty. We discard things, not giving a second thought to them, and in a society which is more concerned about personal well-being and a world that is getting smaller, more impersonal, individualistic and superficial by the minute, thinking about the widespread environmental impact of our activities is losing its importance. On that note, if there is one thing that people, including the world leaders, are most interested in, it is accumulating wealth and validating one’s power over the rest, ignoring the general wellbeing of the masses. Whatever the intention of carrying it out, waste, especially plastic, can be converted from one of the most serious environmental hazards to national assets. As UPSTREAM, an organization devoted to reduction of plastic waste in our oceans, puts it in their webpage as the primary cause of plastic pollution, “Today we use plastic—a material designed to last forever—for products designed to last minutes.”
One of the major obstacles encountered by environmental activists while promoting sustainable means of development is people’s mindset. Not everyone is blind to the problems related to plastic waste accumulation. It is simply a matter of being aware of the problem at hand and having the desire to alter the situation as best as possible. The issue is not that we do not have the resources; it is that we would rather spend them on something, anything, else than save our planet. And even when the people agree, the administrations all over the world do not, showing other, seemingly more important factors which require their immediate attention. Plastic, owing to the vast scope of its reusability and recyclability, has immense potential which, if harnessed with proper care, can benefit the entire humankind. It would do well to educate each of the countries and their Governments as a whole regarding the benefits of bringing used plastic back into the production cycles. Produced plastic, which has already used a plethora of resources and capital and labor, if reused to make new commodities, can channel the money value into the new products without additional costs. Besides that, it would lead to the creation of jobs, reducing unemployment and poverty and increasing the overall prosperity of the country. Less waste would also mean that the money previously required to conduct mass clean-ups and management of bulk amounts of waste plastic would used in a better manner, for a better cause.
Individual contribution of the masses of people is also an essential element. Following the 3 R’s of waste management—reduce, reuse, and recycle—common people can play a pivotal role in plastic waste reduction. Buying reusable bags, water bottles, utensils, and many other household items can reduce plastic production within the economy. Consumers form a major part of the decision-making process for producers—what we demand to buy is what the producers will make. Therefore, it is our choice to spend our money on reusable, long-lasting and durable plastic alternatives, or buy onetime use plastic, which in return would ultimately lead to more cost because plastic waste generation can cause major health issues for the public. Recycling plastic is easy, and many countries follow this process, with or without separate garbage-disposal facilities for recyclable and non-recyclable goods. Erik Jensen is an award-winning artist who turns old keyboards into famous art pieces. Keyboard keys are usually difficult to recycle, but Erik Jensen gathers them, paints them, and creates beautiful masterpieces with them. Several other people have come up with similar fantastic ideas, where they take a piece of used plastic and convert it into handmade crafts. Plastic waste processing and recycling companies have sprung up all over the world, and have grown into booming businesses. The internet is overflowing with tutorials and ‘how-to’s on transforming plastic waste into creative and functional items, such as bird-feeders, hanging planters, magazine holders, pencil cases and stands, and, perhaps the most innovative, the DIY Zero Electricity Cooler or the Eco-Cooler developed by Grey Dhaka and Grameen Intel Social Business in Bangladesh.
Countries that have a well-functioning system of plastic recycling will know that most plastic waste is easy to recondition into usable plastic, many times over. From bricks used in house-building to plastic chips for making pavements, many Indian companies and startups have brought forward innovative solutions to plastic waste management. The limitation here is that only few types of plastics are recyclable. Polystyrene used in plastic cutlery and foam cups, Polypropylene as found in ice-cream containers and low-density polyethylene in polythene bags are more difficult and more expensive to process. The types that can, and are being recycled are PVC (Plasticized Polyvinyl chloride or polyvinyl chloride) found in blood bags and wire insulations, HDPE (High-density polyethylene) in shampoo containers and PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) which is a high-grade plastic commonly used in reusable plastic bottles (source: Rick LeBlanc, “An Overview of Plastic Recycling”).
We still have the potential to turn things around. Many countries have acknowledged and understood the long-term damaging effects of plastic on the biodiversity of our planet. Countries like Bangladesh, Australia, France, India, along with others, have already imposed bans on plastics, either wholly or some forms of it. For these nations, it is important to take care of the plastic waste that is already present within the system, and to ensure proper implementation of the prohibition on plastics. Others have a long way to go, but hopefully the bright future is not too far. Only if every human on Earth understands the harm caused by plastics, can we come together to save the planet.