At present, plastic pollution has become a serious global problem. Billions of plastic bags are thrown every year across the world. These plastic bags block the flow of drains, and moving further, they reach rivers and oceans. Since plastic does not get naturally disintegrated, it affects the life and environment of rivers, oceans etc in an adverse manner. Due to plastic pollution, millions of animals and birds are killed at the global level, which is a highly worrisome aspect in terms of environmental balance.
It is a matter of deep concern that at present around 1500 million tonnes of plastic has been collected on the entire planet, which is constantly damaging the environment. Today, the use of plastic per person is 18 kilograms, whereas its recycling is only 15.2 percent. Also, plastic recycling is not that much considered safe as more pollution spreads through recycling of plastic.
Today, plastic is seen everywhere, which is contaminating the environment. As per an estimate, about ten to fifteen thousand units in India are producing polyethylene. According to the 1990 data, its consumption in the country was twenty thousand tonnes, which is now reported to reach three to four lakh tonnes – it is an ominous sign for the future. Since polyethylene came into circulation, all the old materials became obsolete as clothes, jute and paper were replaced by polythene. Polyethylene-made items cannot be used again after using the, so, they have to be thrown out. These poly-manufactured objects are not dissolvable, i.e., they are not biodegradable substances.
Wherever plastic is found, the fertile power of the earth is reduced and the seeds buried under do not germinate. So, the land becomes barren. Plastic blocks the drains, the heaps of polyethylene pollute the atmosphere. As we throw left-over food items wrapped into polyethylene, animal consume them along with it, which adversely affects the health of animals, even leading to their death.
What is Plastic Pollution?
The pile-up of plastic products on the ground or in water is called plastic pollution, which has an extremely bad effect on the lives of human beings, birds and animals. Plastic pollution has a dangerous impact on wildlife, wildlife habitat, and human beings. Plastic pollution affects land, air, waterways and oceans.
Plastic is mainly made from synthetic resins emitted from petroleum substances. In the resins, plastic monomers are made by combining ammonia and benzene. Plastic contains molecules of chlorine, fluorine, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and sulphur.
Today, every country in the world is struggling with the devastating problems of plastic pollution. In our country, especially the urban environment has been badly affected by plastic pollution. In the cities, cow and other animals and birds are getting killed by consuming plastic bags in large numbers. As it’s not naturally degradable, it remains permanently in nature once it is formed due to the absence of any capable micro bacteria that can destroy it in nature. It leads to serious ecological imbalance. It also does not get destroyed due to being insoluble in water. It increases heavy water pollution and inhibits the water flow on the earth, due to which such polluted water produces flies, mosquito and poisonous pests, which spread diseases such as malaria and dengue.
Why is Plastic Pollution a Problem?
Research has shown that the use of plastic bottles and containers is extremely dangerous. Having a hot food or water in a plastic vessel can lead to cancer. When the plastic is hot due to excessive sunlight or temperature, leakage of harmful chemical dioxin in it causes heavy damage to the body.
Plastic bags below 40 microns are not biodegradable: they sustain in the environment for ever. In addition to not being degraded for a long time, plastic causes many ill-effects, which are harmful to human health. For example, PVC, used in the manufacture of pipes, windows and doors, is made by polymerization of vinyl chloride. Chemicals used in its composition can cause cancer of the brain and liver. To make the packing of machines, extremely rigid polycarbonate plastic phosgene is obtained from saturating of the bisphenol compounds. These components generate highly toxic and humid gas. Formaldehyde is used in the manufacture of many types of plastic. This chemical can cause rashes on the skin. Staying in its touch for several days can lead to asthma and respiratory diseases.
Many organic compounds are added to create flexibility in plastic. Many types of polyethylene gasification are carcinogenic compounds. These toxic substances found in plastic are used during plastic formation. In the ready (solid) plastic utensils, if the food contents are kept for a long time or the skin of the body is in contact with the plastic for a long time then the chemicals present in plastic can wreak havoc. Similarly, the plastic waste that is thrown into the garbage for long period can leave many toxic effects for the environment.
How does Plastic Contribute to Air Pollution?
Plastic waste leads to the production of many toxic gases. As a result, severe air pollution is produced which leads to cancer, inhibits physical development and causes terrible disease. During the production of plastic, dangerous gases like ethylene oxide, benzene and xylene, etc are generated. Dioxin also emerges on burning it, which is very poisonous and produces cancer.
Due to plastics in the pits, the environment is damaged, soil and groundwater get toxic and gradually the ecological balance starts to deteriorate. The health of workers working in the plastics industry also suffers to a dangerous extent especially impacting their lungs, kidneys and nervous system.
What happens when you Burn Plastic?
Burning plastic waste usually emits carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide gases, which can cause diseases of the respiratory track or skin. Also, burning of polystyrene plastic produces chlro-fluro carbon, which is harmful to the ozone layer of the atmosphere. Similarly, burning of polyvinyl chloride produces chlorine and nylon, and polyurethane releases toxic gases like nitric oxide.
Throwing and burning of plastic both cause harm to the environment equally. There is a large amount of chemical emissions on plastic burning, which, by inhaling causes adverse effects on the respiratory system. Whether plastic is thrown into the ground or thrown into the water, its harmful effects are not reduced.
What are the Causes of Plastic Pollution?
Although plastic-made goods are helpful in improving the quality of the lives of poor and middle-class people, at the same time, they are unaware of the threat posed by their continued use. Plastic has become an object which has started being used in the places of worship, kitchen, bathroom, sitting room and reading-rooms. Not only this, if we have to bring any item such as ration, fruits, vegetables, clothes, shoes, milk, yogurt, oil, ghee and fruit juice etc from the market, then polyethylene is widely used . In today’s world, there is a lot of fast food which is also packed in polythene. Man is so accustomed to plastic that he has forgotten to use bags made of jute or clothes. The shopkeepers too keep every type of polythene bag, because the customer has made it compulsory to keep the poly. It was not so four to five decades ago when bags used to be made of clothes, jute or paper that were beneficial for the environment.
Plastic carry bags have created a major problem in modern civilization. Because of no concrete arrangement of their disposal, they pose a grave threat for the environment. Five to seven quintals of carry bags are sold even in a small town. The process of pollution starts when the carry bags are thrown in the form of wastes in the garbage after their use. Due to not being biodegradable, the plastic carry bags never rot or fade and become a threat to the environment. The carry bags hinder the process of photosynthesis of crops in agricultural fields.
Food and drugs wrapped in plastic packing makes it contaminated and spoils it by initiating a chemical process. The consumption of such food threatens human life as it leads to terrible diseases.
Effects of Plastic Pollution
Plastic pollution is a serious threat to the environment. The scientists have been warning about its adverse effects for years. The problem has been particularly grave that despite various widely-publicised cleanliness drives, nothing is untouched by the plastic waste, be it villages, towns, cities, metropolises, not even the country’s capital, despite the fact that the use of polyethylene is prohibited. In this regard, the National Green Tribunal has time and again expressed strong displeasure. It has slammed the state governments on the indiscriminate use of plastic across the country.
Wherever the human stepped their feet; the polythene pollution kept on spreading. It has even been contaminating the Himalayan valleys. It has increased in such a way that the government is also campaigning for its prevention. All the places of picnic or outing suffer from it.
Studies prove that aquatic creatures are not safe due to plastic waste. Hazardous elements like microplastic are usually caused by the use of waste such as plastic bags, bottle lid, water flow in containers, emission of ultraviolet rays and large amounts of microbes used in cosmetics and toothpaste. Micro plastic absorbs dangerous chemicals, and when birds and fish eat it, it goes into their body. The latest study on the Arctic Sea proves that plastic will be more in the next three decades than the fishes or other aquatic species.
By coming from different streams in the ocean, small pieces of plastic have been constantly collected in very large quantities for years. Their amounts are estimated at around 100 to 1200 tonnes. They are in abundance in the sea of Greenland. It is feared that due to rapidly growing pieces of plastic in the Arctic Ocean, the sea of surrounding countries can be polluted. Studies have shown that millions of tonnes of plastic waste has found its way in the oceans of the world, and it is increasing day by day, which is a dangerous sign.
Solutions to Plastic Pollution
It is the duty of the society to live up to the saying that nature is the unique gift of God. Therefore, the people have to come forward to prevent the pollution caused by polyethylene, and everyone has to be involved in dealing with it at one’s own level. Whether it is children or elderly, men or women, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, urbanites or villagers, all have to work hard to get rid of the menace of plastic. The older members of the family should not use polyethylene, and also prevent all other members from using it. Also, if you provide proper information about it to the people around, it will be the biggest step to stop the use of polyethylene. When you go shopping in the market, then take a jute or bag made of clothes with you, and if the shopkeeper gives the poly bag, prevail upon him from offering it. If the consumers stop using it, then its need will decrease day by day and a time will come when polyethylene will be eliminated from the environment. The Government machinery too needs to close the units engaged in the manufacture of polyethylene.
One of the other solutions of plastic waste is its recycling. Recycling mean making things new from plastic by getting back plastics from plastic wastes. Plastic recycling was first done by a California firm in 1970. This firm created tiles for drainage from plastic spills and plastic bottles of milk. But the work of recycling of plastic has its limitations as the recycling process is quite expensive and fraught with the danger of emitting more pollution.
As a matter of fact, most of the plastic is biologically non-degradable. This is the main reason why the plastic garbage produced today will last for hundreds of thousands of years, which will continue to play with our lives and the environment. In such a situation, we need to think seriously about plastic’s production and disposal. There is no doubt that the lesser the plastic on the earth, the lesser it will reach the sea. So, to reduce the plastic in the sea, we have to reduce its use on the earth. Since the sea pollution is an extension of the earth’s pollution, it can be more dangerous than the earth’s pollution for the world. In that situation, while the world has been transformed into a pile of plastic waste, there is little doubt that the sea will remain clean only when the earth becomes pollution-free. Plastic is one of the major factors in this regard.
The selfish and consumerist human has damaged the environment by the indiscriminate use of polyethylene. In today’s materialistic age, our society, unaware of polythene’s far-reaching adverse effects and toxicity, has gone too far in its use as if life is incomplete without it.
There is no exaggeration to say that we are living in the polyethylene or plastic era. Everyone seems to be knowingly becoming unaware of the side effects of polyethylene, which is a type of poison that will destroy the environment. If we want to get rid of plastic in the future, it will be too late as by then the entire environment will become contaminated by it. So, the time is to act NOW.