Since the last few decades, plastic products have been heavily introduced amongst consumers and retailers. The major reasons for the widespread utilization of such plastic products have been attributed to their cheapness, convenience to use, durability, versatility, corrosion resistance, thermal and electrical insulation, and abundant availability due to which plastic finds a wide range of applications. Common applications of plastics include packaging, construction, electrical and electronic goods, automobiles, household items, and various industrial usages. Plastic products have steadily grabbed hold of the market as there has been an exponential rise in their demand as it is inexpensive and durable, and as a result, levels of plastic production is high.
Recently plastics have become a major reason for concern due to the unavailability of the proper disposal systems, circulation of single-use plastics, the release of toxins during manufacturing, use, and disposal of plastics, and their long period of degradation. After the entry of plastics into the environment, they can persist up to a thousand years and remain in the environment without being decomposed by sunlight or microorganisms. Plastic pollution causes harm to humans, animals, and plants through toxic pollutants. It affects all organisms as toxins work their way up the food chain when plastic is ingested and cause serious health issues. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption, and other ailments. The most direct effect of plastic pollution is the entanglement of animals in nets or large debris. It is a cause of significant mortality of marine mammals, turtles, and birds. It is reported that the majority of the trash is in the ocean is swept from the land. Plastics are also responsible for contaminating water bodies as toxic chemicals from plastics drain out and seep into groundwater, polluting lakes and rivers. Plastic also attracts other pollutants. Chemicals in plastic that give them their rigidity or flexibility (flame retardants, bisphenols, phthalates, and other harmful chemicals) are oily poisons that repel water and stick to petroleum-based objects like plastic debris. So, the toxic chemicals that leach out of plastics can accumulate on other plastics. This is a serious concern with increasing amounts of plastic debris accumulating in the world’s oceans and the concern only gets bigger as most of the plastic piles up in the environment as only a meagre amount of plastic waste is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, or is burned, or becomes litter.
The composition of plastics is highly toxic, and inadequate measures taken for disposal pose a serious threat to the environment and all that it encompasses. The generation and accumulation of plastic wastes in a community causes environmental pollution which can be manifested in several ways. General waste in a community can be from household items such as polythene bags, packaging items, single-use plastics, and other appliances. The waste generated turns harmful when there is no proper system of disposal. Waste management is aimed at safeguarding the environment and to enhance the quality of living for humans and animals. Waste management is the process of ensuring the collection, segregation, and disposal of waste appropriately. Hazardous wastes are needed to be disposed of away from humans and animals to prevent harm. Environmental pollution factors a major public health issue that can be prevented by proper waste management practices. Several strategies have been adopted for better handling of plastic wastes which include recycling, depositing of wastes on landfills, incineration, and conversion of waste into useful materials. Landfilling occupies productive land and renders it unfit for other applications. Incineration and pyrolytic conversion of waste plastic results in the emission of hazardous atmospheric pollutants including polyaromatic hydrocarbons, CO2 (a greenhouse gas), and persistent organic pollutants like dioxins.
This necessitates us to take proactive measures to significantly reduce waste from the root. This can be done in several ways. One way is to practice and advocate the three R’s: Reduce, reuse, and recycle. Other methods include switching to more eco-friendly alternatives such as jute, fabric, etc. Steps can be taken by the government to set up proper waste management systems and laws can be implemented for the limited production, usage, and circulation of plastic products. The government can run ad-campaigns to create awareness about the harmful effects of plastics, proper methods of waste disposal, and substitutes for plastic products. Workshops can also be conducted in schools and colleges. But more importantly, people in a community have to do self-introspection and adopt practices that benefit them and the environment and should work together to secure a bright future.