Plastic is one of the most useful materials. We use plastics almost everywhere. From packaging medical devices to consumables like milk packets, bread containers, water bottles, pet bottles for soft drinks, straws, coffee stirrers etc. Contrary to 30 years ago even small amounts as low as 50 or 100gm are being marketed in plastic pouches. Despite the usefulness of plastics 13 countries have banned single-use plastic (the greatest menace) as these pose a huge threat to our natural biodiversity.
The threat is so severe that a 1.6 million square kilometre zone has been named “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” – a zone where ocean currents gather so much plastic that there is not even a foot of space left to stand. Every year millions of sea birds and aquatic lifeforms die due to suffocation which is caused by ingesting plastics; that jam the intestines and causes death due to starvation.
Today we generate around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. That is almost as much as the weight of the entire human population. Half the plastic that is manufactured is meant to be used once. This plastic then makes way into our rivers, lakes, oceans, and clogs urban drainage systems causing floods. In fact, Bangladesh banned all thinner plastic bags in 2002 and blamed them for causing the devastating floods of the late 1990s due to clogged drains.
Most of the plastic produced is not recycled. This plastic ends up in landfills where it will stay for more than 500 years thereby causing harmful elements to seep into the soil and groundwater. The pollution caused is so severe that salt being manufactured in 2019 shows microplastics in their constituents. This is harmful to humans. The plastics that are thrown away also make their way into the digestive systems of animals, and birds which further add to biodiversity erosion.
FIrstly, banning single-use plastics is an imperative decision that needs to be enforced in addition to empowering consumers and stakeholders about the dangers of plastics and ways around them.
40 years ago, when plastic was still in its nascent stage of use people used earthen pots to take perishables like curd back home from the market. People also carried their own utensils with them to avoid using packaging. Gunny bags were used to bring home cereals, pulses and grains or flour. Soft drinks and soda used to be sold in glass bottles. For milk people carried their own cans made of steel. Fruits and vegetables used to be delivered in jute bags or gunny sacks.
The best way to avoid the disaster of single-use plastics is to eliminate it from our daily use. Yes, it might take some change in the way we shop; but that is desperately needed.