Plastic was developed as a necessary commodity for humankind and has since found its way into being utilized in almost every aspect of the daily life of humans. Be it the household or the industries, plastic is extensively used in packaging, as containers, in plumbings, and a lot of other places. As time passes and the use of plastic becomes more and more extensive, it has developed into a “necessary evil” for humankind, with more evil than necessity.
Plastics are usually derived from natural products such as cellulose, coal, petroleum, crude oil, cellulose, and various other compounds. These organic compounds are further subjected to polymerization under specified conditions to yield the final plastic products. Most commonly known among these plastic products are polyethylene or polythene (polymerized from ethylene) which is widely used in making carry bags, polystyrene (polymerized from styrene) which is commonly used in food packaging and making foam material, and polyvinyl chloride (polymerized from vinyl chloride) which is used in pipes fittings.
Where does the problem lie?
The main problem concerning plastic is that while most plastic products can be recycled, Single-Use Plastic (SUP) cannot be recycled. These products cause the most harm to our environment. Other plastic products are usually disposed-off without reusing them or recycling them. It can often be seen that plastic bags have been discarded in empty, uninhabited areas. These plastic products crowd the soil, which prevents the efficient aeration of the soil and, in turn, harms the plants and the organisms living in the ground.
Moreover, the plastic bags may even cover the growing plants, preventing the supply of oxygen to these plants and cutting off their gaseous exchange. When strewn about carelessly, animals might swallow the plastic, which can affect them fatally, leading to death. In fact, there have been many instances where marine life has, have been, and are suffering from plastic. Plastic waste floating on the surface of the water also leads to a reduction in the quantity of dissolved oxygen, which drastically harms aquatic life. Another practice common in various places involves the burning of plastic waste in bulk amounts. This is very harmful as combustion of plastic liberates copious amounts of Carbon Monoxide and other potentially carcinogenic effluents. Apart from contributing to air pollution and global warming, these effluents also harm humans by causing Asthma, suffocation, shortness of breath, and even Lung cancer in severe cases. But all these harmful effects of plastic can be reduced to a great extent by knowing how to stop using plastic and spreading awareness regarding the ways to avoid using plastic.
Ways to avoid using plastic
Almost 30 million tons of plastic waste is generated by first world countries like the USA, and only 7% of that waste can be recycled. With this information, one can derive how much non-degradable plastic waste is produced by humankind globally and what magnitude of damage it does to the environment. And it is needless to say that the usage should drastically be lowered and must be brought down to a bare minimum. Below given are a few tips as to how the usage of non-degradable plastic material can be lowered.
- Stoppage of buying bottled water and usage of non-plastic (metal or glass) bottles for domestic purposes.
- Usage of cardboard or paper bags instead of plastic bags for daily life purposes will bring down the stats.
- Shopping in bulk will help reduction of plastics as plastic bags won’t be needed more than once a month that way.
- The usage of sanitized cloth instead of diapers and pad is a smart move to generate less plastic waste.
- Practising the carrying of one’s own container or flask for food and beverage is a smart way to reduce the usage of plastic.
- Reducing/stopping the consumption of frozen food will help reduce plastic waste. Buying groceries directly from the local farmers will help reduce the usage of plastic packages.
- Chewing gums have traces of plastic harmful for health and society, and hence the practise should be stopped.
- Usage of vinegar and water for cleansing purposes and storing it in glass bottles instead of the chemical-based cleansers marketed in plastic bottles.
- Not throwing away plastic containers and using reusable food wares and containers should be practised.
- It is better to carry and consume food in steel, metal or glass containers.
- Using natural rubber gloves for odd jobs instead of the usually available plastic-based options.
- Using paper cups and paper plastics in parties and picnics instead of plastic varieties.
- Avoiding the usage of plastic spoons, forks, and spoons and carrying one’s own cutlery while travelling.
Modern approaches to combat problems of pollution by plastic
Given the rapidly increasing problems of pollution, global warming and the resultant drastic changes in climate on a global scale, various research-oriented and industrial level steps have been undertaken to combat this problem. Some of these methods include:
- Large scale usage of biodegradable plastics to produce plastic goods on an industrial level. These are obtained from renewable organic matter and petrochemical products, which can be degraded biotically to water, biomass, and carbon-dioxide which do not pose a significant danger to human health.
- Algal extracts that have been polymerized to form plastic-mimicking material which can be used for packaging and storage purposes and can be readily degraded biotically without any harmful by-products.
- Various petroleum-consuming microorganisms can degrade plastic. These microorganisms are usually bacteria belonging to the Pseudomonas genus. Genetic re-engineering of these bacteria has given rise to strains that can efficiently degrade plastic without harming the environment.
- Lastly, an organized infrastructure for carrying out large scale industrial recycling of plastic waste should be present to keep a check on improper disposal of plastic waste and the resultant damage of the surroundings.
In conclusion, it can be stated that the “Plastic problem” which is already affecting the world adversely can be combated by taking small steps forward, starting from the household itself. Numerous precautionary and progressive steps can cumulatively contribute to the combating and eventual alleviation of this problem.