THE RISING THREAT THAN NUCLEAR WEAPONS – THE PLASTICS
“The proper use of science is not to conquer Nature but to live in it” – Barry Commoner (Ecologist)
We know definitely that the mother nature will have only certain limit of toleration to bear the human’s intended and unintended acts of exploitation. I think this pandemic is the nature’s punishment to the highly intelligent living beings of earth-the humans. The consequences of our greedy exploitation are enormous and it will increase further.
At the same time, the concern towards the ecology and waste management ideas to protect the nature are little rising.
THE DETRIMENTAL PLASTICS
Plastics are lightweight, flexible insulator and very much easier to use. About 8% of world oil production is used for making plastics. Our daily routine starts and ends with plastic. We are using plastic tooth brush, disposable plastic cups for drinking coffee, taking bath with plastic buckets, working in gadgets (laptops, mobile) made of plastics buying food items with plastic cover, plastic water bottles… and the list is endless. Are we living in a plastic planet? I think almost because we are manufacturing 300 million tons of plastic every year in which 50% are single-use disposable plastic. The common misconception behind the question: Where do this plastic go after usage? is recycling. But the reality is only 9% are recycled and 12% are incinerated, the remaining are ending up in the landfills and ocean. According to recent study, more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in ocean every year. Indian holy river Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus contribute a major role in draining total plastic debris into the sea. Sometimes urban areas face heavy floods due to the poor drainage and plastic clogging. It is also important to note that not all kinds of plastic are recyclable. Even the recyclable plastics can be recycled only once or twice. Mostly they are downcycled to fabrics. We know plastics are nothing but the polymers. They are made up of carcinogens like vinyl chloride, polystyrene etc…so even burning the plastic wastes release gases like dioxin(carcinogen) which too harms the environment. Moreover, these plastics are the cause for the death of many animals which eat those hazardous material ignorantly. A recent study says that microplastics are prevalent in seafoods which may affect the human’s health who are consuming that.
OTHER CAUSES FOR POLLUTION
There are innumerable factors behind the environmental pollution in addition to plastics. Population boom is the root cause of many problems. Increase in vehicle usage, E-waste, deforestation, and rising industrialization are the major reasons for the greenhouse gas effect, global warming, pollution, climate change etc…. It is good that we are using science and technology to invent new things for the sake of human’s comfortable lifestyle. But to have easy life for us, making other living beings and future generation to suffer in the polluted earth is a kind of sin.
LET WE UNITE TO SAVE OUR MOTHER NATURE
“When it comes to Global Warming everybody wants to change the world but nobody wants to change themselves”
According to me, the first thing we need to do before implementing rules is to change our mentality of gaining comfort from the things which are harming the environment. We need to accept one thing that our ancestors (before 20th century) lived without using plastics. Then why can’t we? it cannot be changed within a single day, but we can start it from today. We can carry cloth bags from home instead of buying separate plastic cover/bags while purchasing. We can segregate our home waste as biodegradable and non-biodegradable before dumping it in the bins (it favours recycling). Students can maximise the use of pencils (made of wood) or refilling ink pens rather than buying single use ballpoint pens, gel pens (made of plastic) etc…These are some easy individual initiatives we can take it today. But to make plastic free planet is a herculean task as it may take many years/decades. Basically, most of the plastic takes nearly 1000 years to get decomposed. Even if we find a best eco-friendly alternative to plastic, how to degrade the tons of dumped up plastics which are already widespread in the landfills and ocean? This is a common question among many environmentalists.
No other best way is available rather than banning the plastics. At least the government should take steps to phase out single use plastics. Few countries have strictly implemented that.
Future plastics must be eco-friendly. We can use
1. Biodegradable plastics / Biopolymers:
• Few microorganisms produce biocompatible thermoplastics called polyhydroxybutyrate(PHB) and polyhydroxyalkanoates(PHA).
• Polylactic acid(PLA) is another kind of bioactive polyester derived from renewable resources such as corn starch, sugarcane, cassava roots etc…
2. Infinitely recyclable glass and metals which can replace the plastics
Further manufacture of plastics must be minimised, biopolymers production should be enhanced and landfill waste need to be recycled and reused.
WASTE MANAGEMENT IDEAS
* To recycle and reuse the plastics
1. One of the best ways is to Replace the existing construction materials with the recycled plastics.
Generally, the collected waste plastics undergo melting process at standard conditions. Later they are compressed to panels. Those panels are used as the building blocks. The recycled plastic homes are cheaper, eco-friendly and consume less constructing time
2. Another useful way is turning plastic into fuel, i.e
Less harming plastics are selected and heated (chemical bonds are broken down) to produce a synthetic gas which may be used to produce petrol/diesel or it can be burned in boilers to generate electricity. Sometimes in a process called pyrolysis it is heated in the absence of oxygen which produces an oil similar to crude oil.
* To degrade the waste plastics
1. An important study confirms that there is a bacteria named Ideonella sakaiensis which is capable to digest the PET(polyethene terephthalate)plastics by secreting PETase and MHETase hydrolyse enzyme. Molecular biologists are in the challenging research to clone the genes that express the PETase and MHETase enzyme into some other microbes, so that plastics piled up in the ground could be degraded
2. Even Mealworms, superworms have the ability to degrade the polystyrene plastics. Scientist reveal their ability is due to the presence of certain strain of bacteria (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) in the gut.
Ocean Cleanup is a private environmental organization working in a project to eliminate the ocean plastics with a floating garbage truck to efficiently intercept the plastics in rivers before reaching the oceans.
Others measures to prevent plastic pollution
• Government should encourage plastic recycling start-ups in each city and provide fund for bioplastic research projects.
• Making awareness among the school children about environmental issues may encourage them to create new ideas for preventing nature
Our tongue which moves to say “Ban plastic…”, “Make plastic free India” … never fails to drool on seeing the dark chocolates packed in attractive plastic covers. We feel proud to buy 200 Rupees perfume bottle from amazon which are home delivered in bubble wrap plastic covers. Until we stop this kind of silly practices, our dream to make “plastic free planet” cannot be fulfilled.
“What is the use of fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on”
– Henry David Thoreau