07 Editorial - Plastic Pollution

posted Apr 19, 2018, 9:26 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Apr 19, 2018, 11:56 PM ]
Every year, about 300 billion pounds of plastic is produced in the world, and not even five per cent of it is recycled. So where does the remaining 95 per cent go? Well, most of it finds a safe haven in landfills, and the remaining is thrown in the oceans. It's a known fact that plastic takes almost 100 years to decompose, but when it's thrown in the water, the action of the sun, water and temperature breaks it into small pieces, which helps the spreading of plastic even more.

This is very strange but true; in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a circular pattern of water currents have accumulated enormous amounts of floating garbage. This huge amount is often referred as the 'Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch'. It was discovered by Captain Charles Moore in the early 1990s, and it is still growing.

Some of the environmental problems caused by plastic are due to the fact that they are extensively used, because they are easy and cheap to make, and they can last a long time. Unfortunately, these same useful qualities can make plastic a huge pollution problem. Because plastic is cheap, it gets discarded easily and can do great harm to the environment. When plastic is burnt, the harmful fumes enter into the atmosphere, and have direct effects on any one who breathes it. And we cannot eliminate plastic by burning it.

Most of the solid waste, like paper, plastic containers, bottles, cans, and even used cars and electronic goods are not bio-degradable, which means they do not get broken down through inorganic or organic processes. Thus, when they integrate in the soil, the soil loses its fertility. Urbanisation has added to plastic pollution, especially in cities. Plastic thrown on land can enter drainage lines and choke them, resulting in floods, especially in cities, as experienced in Mumbai many times in the past.

It has come to light through statistics available that it has been one of the growing causes that have endangered the life of children. Thin plastic bags, especially dry cleaning bags, have the potential for causing suffocation. About 25 children in the United States suffocate each year due to plastic bags, most under the age of one. This has led to voluntary warning labels on some bags which may pose a hazard to small children.

Many of the major chemicals used in large volumes to produce plastics are highly toxic. Some chemicals are known to cause cancer in humans; many tend to be gases and liquid hydrocarbons, which readily vaporise and pollute the air. Many are flammable and explosive. Even the plastic resins themselves are flammable and have contributed to numerous chemical accidents. The production of plastic emits substantial amounts of toxic chemicals in air and water; this is pernicious both to public health and colossal damage to our ecosystems.

Even livestock is endangered by the growing menace of plastic garbage. It was claimed in one of the programmes on a TV channel that eating plastic bags results in the death of 100 cattle per day in Uttar Pradesh in India. In the stomach of one dead cow, as much as 35 kg of plastic was found, because plastic does not decompose/digest, and requires high energy ultra-violet light to break down.

The amount of plastic waste in our oceans is steadily increasing. More than 90% of the articles found on the beaches are made up of plastic. The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tend to originate from packaging materials. About 100,000 animals such as dolphins, turtles, whales, penguins are killed every year due to plastic bags.

Many animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food, and therefore die. And worse, the ingested plastic bag remains intact, even after the death and decomposition of the animal. Thus, it lies around where another victim may ingest it, resulting in plastic pollution causing environmental devastation both on sea and landscapes.

Compiled by Fr Felix Rebello from online sources