We, humans, are belligerent and ambivalent species who are equipped with awesome capabilities of negation. What we are terrified of is losing our bread-and-better in a recession and having to hit the grounds as nimrods, the consequence of which we think could very well happen to a lot of us unless more and more consumers keep buying lots of stuff, pretty much all of it either wrapped in charming plastic packages or fabricated out of plastic.
There are environmental debates concerned with aggravating waste emanation especially due to the deluge of plastic detritus including greenhouse gas emissions and contamination of groundwater.
Plastics take a century to degrade by natural chemical processes- a fact known to everyone on this planet. Yet, people don’t dispatch them properly. They are known to make our streets filthy and block drainage systems and sewers. Nevertheless, to say, they even disfigure the countryside and threaten wildlife.
According to researchers, the world emanates at least 3.5 million tons of plastic and other wastes a day, 10 times the amount 100 years ago. The U.S. is one of the chief trash producers, with a world-leading 250 million tons a year
On the contrary, Germany recycles 48.8% of plastic waste making it the highest recycling rate of plastic waste produced by the world.
Recycling in itself may not be enough if ‘Protection of Mother Earth’ is our common goal. It’s preferable to Reduce and Reuse, Refuse then Recycle, so these four objectives should be emphasized as paramount as to turn our plastic scrap into valuable assets.
OBSTACLES IN PLASTIC WASTE REDUCTION:
Efforts to curtail the drift of plastic to the seas confront intimidating technological and economic obstacles. This is very well observed in a recently defeated attempt to ban plastic shopping bags in California because it would hinder jobs and hinder growth.
Furthermore, China used to accept 55% of the world’s plastic and paper scrap. That included waste sent over from Britain. But in 2018 it stopped taking any more. Other countries like Indonesia and Vietnam took over China’s waste processing role. But they too are now sending much of it back, arguing it is rancid and harming their environments.
While all of this is happening, the virgin plastic industry producing virgin plastic made from original, unused plastic containers is increasing its production capacity. These are made directly from fossil fuels like crude oil or natural gas – major sources of carbon dioxide and climate change. Laborers here are often exposed to hazardous waste materials that can harm them. But the raising of this issue is having an impact.
THE LIMITED VIABILITY OF PLASTIC RECYCLING:
Psychological experiments have found that if people know recycling is an option they tend to use more resources. They reduce any guilty feelings by telling themselves that the material will be recycled anyway.
People perceive recycling to be great but there are significant labor and material costs associated with recycling. Another reason is that it’s not always possible to separate waste and hence we can’t recycle, and that makes treating it very difficult.
PLASTICS IN OCEANS
Out of around 300 million tons of plastic generated every year, some go into landfills but about 10% of plastic ends up in the sea.
Researches have already found that there’s a lot of micro-plastics in the sea and that some of these are being ingested by the zooplankton living there. The zooplanktons which are tiny little animals in the sea, mistake the micro-plastics for food and eat them. Since zooplanktons and humans are in the same food chain, we may end up eating them and the micro-plastics inside them!
Exposed to sunlight, plastic loses its useful properties and becomes frangible and rigid breaking up into tiny pieces and acts as molecular magnets for whatever poisons it encounters, attracting “tenacious organic pollutants” like dioxins which are well-known to cause cancer in lab animals and are plausible human carcinogens linked to escalated chronicity of melanomas, liver, gall bladder and brain cancer. Even plastic dust continues to disintegrate into strings of adamantine synthetic molecules which are too small for the wispy snare to catch. Thus every marine creature and seabird may have that chowed micro-plastic in it. Indeed the health repercussions of a poisoned food chain seem emphatic.
The Pacific trash vortex is the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the central North Pacific Ocean. Scientists have found them to be one million times more toxic than the ambient seawater in which they floated. Needless to say, NOAA and other scientific orgs have also been quietly studying marine debris for decades and discovered that there are eight disparate garbage patches in the Earth’s oceans. Nevertheless, to say, there’s no way to clean up the existing patches.
A study estimated that it would take 68 ships trawling an entire year to cover 1% of the Pacific. They would burn up a tremendous amount of fuel and do more harm than good. Reducing litter, plastic drives like the old school plastic drives, with economic incentives to corral plastic waste, would do some good.
PLASTIC ALTERING OUR BIOCHEMISTRY:
A comprehensive look at endocrine-disrupting and estrogen-resembling chemicals and all commercially available plastics leaching synthetic estrogen imply that they cause a host of health problems. Indeed, it’s already happening. Our grandmums hit puberty at age 17 and their granddaughters at age 12. Sperm counts are below 50 percent since the 1950s. In another 50 years, we may not be able to reproduce. Perhaps our stratum will be a dazzling splodge of plastic and altered biochemistry with the saying ‘Live quick and Die immature’.
The deluge in the amount of plastic waste and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has caused global warming.
The rich countries have already pledged and promised a hundred billion dollars a year, starting from 2020 to mitigate, whilst poorer countries don’t have the resources to do this.
The average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by 0.85°C in the last hundred years and we’re expecting 9.5 billion people by the middle of this century. This implies that a humongous amount of waste will be generated and in turn, the planet is going to burn in its wildfires with its glaciers flooding onto its beautiful green and brown-covering disrupting its tectonic plates which will be catastrophic.
The technology discovered by a British scientist in the 1970s at a company laboratory in North London, of adding a special additive to plastic bags, helps them to disintegrate when susceptible to sunlight, heat, and oxygen. It is now sold to around half the world’s countries. In some, biodegradable bags are even backed by law.
CURBING PLASTIC MENACE:
Many of the solutions to cutting waste can be using alternatives for plastic like glass, paper or stainless-steel containers for packing produce no waste and are cheaper in the long run.
Another possible solution to this problem is to inculcate what is called the Circular Economy by governments all over the world. The idea at the gut of the business model is that a product can always be returned to the manufacturer to be reused or repaired before, then sold on again. Thus, the manufacturer retains accountability for the lifecycle of the product it produces rather than the consumer assuming that accountability when he or she buys it.
In New York, fungi filaments are being used to create compostable packaging. Chefs in hotel kitchens around the world are reducing waste with AI garbage cans that measure it.
Moreover, countries like the UK, Bangladesh, South Africa, China, and Italy have banned plastic bags altogether and started charging a few years ago. States in India like Kerala had already resorted to using cloth and jute bags after the ban and charging of plastic bags.
India recycles nearly 60% of its plastic waste. Around 9400 tons of it arrive in water bodies anyway. Here is where the need to make individual and collective efforts to upcycling comes into play. An example is of the mind-blowing seven rafts made out of 18,000 plastic bottles by Sgt. Eriksen.
There are a growing number of young millennial people who are part of a Zero-waste movement with new innovative means to put yearly trash output small enough to fit inside an eight-ounce mason jar. These are people embracing a modern-simplistic lifestyle by scrimping money. The zero-waste movement thus pushes us into thinking outside the box to use alternative methods to reduce waste.
We, as people on this planet, governments of various countries and organizations must protect Earth’s pristine nature by excogitating “Recycling, Reducing, Reusing and Refusing” methods so that we can provide an unimpaired environment for our offspring to inhabit by turning plastic that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources through comprehensive, robust and innovative methods through marshaling the power of markets and finance. It in turn yields environmental, social, health, spiritual and financial returns in natural resource conservation, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and economic augmentation and competitiveness.