08 Fill the Earth…with Plastic? - Shawna Nemesia

posted Apr 19, 2018, 9:24 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Apr 19, 2018, 9:24 AM ]
Plastic is a trending topic these days. Combating plastic pollution is the 2018 theme for not only Earth Day (April 22), but World Environment Day (June 5) and World Ocean Day (June 8) as well. Its controversial ban in Maharashtra has precipitated much inconvenience and distress. The ban is receiving a lot of flak for causing economic and job losses, forcing us to revert to a 1950s lifestyle – don’t tell me I have to start taking dabbas to the kiranawala now; and compelling us to substitute with paper – paper which comes from depleting forests, and whose production is more polluting than plastic. So let’s examine the plastic conundrum.

Mainly sourced from crude oil, its production process is relatively straightforward. Plastic’s wonderful properties - cheap, convenient, lightweight and waterproof - sparked a host of uses and applications. Food could be packaged and its spoilage prevented. Tyres, automobile parts, pipes, tiles, containers, syringes, cutlery, toys, stationery items are all made out of plastic. Most items we can think of will have some amount of plastic in them. We use plastic because there isn’t a more suitable option. In doing so, we’re making a beeline for the wide gate of destruction.

The total amount of plastic ever produced - a colossal 8.3 billion metric tons - weighs more than 1 billion elephants put together. Plastic, especially single-use plastic, is indiscriminately used. The Earth is groaning under the weight of 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste. Conventional plastic does not biodegrade, and recycling it isn’t financially feasible. Globally, only 9% of all the plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. Burning plastic to get rid of it releases carcinogens. The vast majority of plastic waste persists in the environment; it’s now everywhere on earth. It steadily accumulates in landfills. Unsightly heaps of plastic waste on land will remain unsightly heaps of plastic waste, even 200 years later. A sinister situation occurs when plastic enters the water, obstructing the natural flow of water bodies - who can forget the deluge of July 2005 in Mumbai? - and ultimately ending up in the sea. Here, plastic ensnares marine life, trapping and torturing them, until they slowly starve to death.