Team ulaunch sheds light on various aspects of Plastic Pollution and how it can be tackled.

What is Plastic?

How Plastic is Made - Plastic Pollution 1
How Plastic is Made
  • Plastic is used in almost every object humankind consumes, impacting our planet negatively.
  • It’s the perfect manifestation of convenient consumerism that neglects the impact of human actions on other life forms. Our convenience and use and throw culture is a critical driver of the plastic problem. Large and small companies are equally responsible as they can’t eliminate plastic from business processes.
Plastic - Wonder Material - Plastic Pollution
Plastic – A Wonder Material
Life Stage of Plastic
Life Stage of Plastic

Problems of plastic:

How is plastic disposed of?

  • Landfills
  • Recycle
  • Incineration
    • Heating of waste material
    • Causes harmful, toxic emissions
  • Pyrolysis
    • Changing the composition of plastic at very high temperatures
    • Produces wax, fuel, oil but also releases harmful substances

Plastic pollution

  • Plastic takes 1000 years to decompose, which means the first plastic item ever produced still exists in some form, somewhere.
  • It is harmful to all creatures and destroys our planet.
  • Mismanaged plastic disposal blocks sewerage pipes and leads to clogging, flooding during rains, unhygienic conditions, and disease outbreaks.
  • Singleuse plastic is the most dangerous, due to its quick use and throw usage. It gradually breaks down into microplastics.

Plastic and Animal Kingdom

  • Studies estimate there are now 15–51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, destroying ocean life.
  • Small plastic pieces are broken from the host plastic material and ingested by animals. They block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behaviour. Some species starve and die as their stomachs are stuffed with plastic.
  • Breakdown of plastic results in Microplastics that enter the food chain. They are ingested by animals like fish and get stored in their body tissues. Humans in turn ingest them through seafood. Thus the consequence of our own actions impacts other life forms and us.

Trigger warning: Distressing Graphic Ahead…

The breakdown of microplastics - Plastic Pollution
The breakdown of microplastics. Image Source.
Dying animals due to Plastic Pollution
Dying animals due to Plastic Pollution. Image Source.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)

  • There are many garbage patches across oceans.
  • The largest among them is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is three times the size of France.
  • 90% of plastic in the oceans come from 10 rivers. 8 of these rivers are in Asia, where population density is very high and waste management is not efficient. – World Economic Forum
  • Currents carry waste from the coastlines of surrounding countries to the patch in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Most of the plastics break down very slowly in marine environments or do not biodegrade at all.
  • It has a profound impact on human and marine life.

Where do most of the plastic waste come from?

  • America generates the most plastic on a global scale.
  • Developed countries export their plastic waste to developing nations in Asia such as Thailand, China and the Philippines.
  • Some of this exported waste is mismanaged because of a lack of waste management infrastructure or degraded plastic quality.
Top Countries polluting the oceans via Plastic Pollution. Image Source.

How much waste does India generate?

  • In India, around 26,000 tons of plastic waste is produced daily.
  • Plastic production and waste have increased with westernisation and the influence of developing countries.
  • The waste is dumped in landfills, recycled or littered in public spaces.
  • India aims to phase out usage of single-use plastics by 2022
  • The spike in coronavirus cases has increased the disposal of single-use biomedical plastic waste, increasing daily plastic waste generation.

Other large contributors to plastic waste

Coca-Cola can fill 33 football fields with the plastic waste they generate daily.

Source: Green Queen
  • Large multinational companies like Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle, are the biggest polluters in the world.
  • Various sustainable programmes initiated by these companies have been termed greenwashing, as they still generate tonnes of plastic waste daily.
  • Greenwashing refers to spending more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising rather than actually implementing business practices that minimise environmental impact.
  • Recent evidence has shown how a few of these corporations continue to reframe and ignore their environmental commitments, even though they promote sustainability.

Solutions to plastic problem:

1. Recycling: What is it?

Plastic Products Recycling Process
Plastic Products Recycling Process
  • National Geographic states that out of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that have ever been produced, 6.3 billion tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only 9% is recycled.
  • Recycling Plastic is the go-to option for addressing plastic waste.
  • Recycled plastic waste is used to produce new items.
  • For example, Shayna Ecounified makes pavement tiles, benches, dustbins out of recycled plastic.
  • There are also emerging fashion brands that use recycled plastic in their products.
  • It is important to note that recycling plastic is not the ultimate solution because it only delays the stage of disposal.
  • This is because a new piece of plastic can be recycled up to 7 times. Its quality keeps on degrading after each stage. We are finally left with single-use plastic, that can’t be recycled further and is dumped in landfills or water bodies. To end this crisis, the supply and demand for plastic need to be reduced.

2. Alliance to End Plastic Waste

  • The Alliance to End Plastic Waste was initiated by many companies that engage in different sectors and fields and aim to curb plastic pollution.
  • Companies like PepsiCo and Reliance are being incorporated into these alliances to help find a solution to this plastic crisis primarily caused by them.
  • The 2020 progress report depicts commitment to the cause and slow progress in their core areas of waste management and recycling infrastructure, innovation, education and engagement, and clean up.

3. A solution to the GPGP – The Ocean Cleanup Project

  • Young engineer Boyan Slat started the Ocean Cleanup Project in 2013.
  • The project includes a large tube that accumulates the waste and brings it back to land for recycling.
  • This project can make the ocean plastic-free by 2040.
Ocean Cleanup Project
Ocean Cleanup Project

4. Bioplastics

  • “Bioplastics are plastic made from plants or other biological material instead of petroleum.”
  • It is a valid and relatively more sustainable alternative to plastic but is not the solution.
  • In order to produce the resources needed for bioplastic, plenty of land, fertilizers and water is needed. Land and water are essential and scarce resources needed for food production, thus making bioplastics a bigger problem than a solution.
  • Efforts are being taken by bioplastic companies to stop the diversion of land from crop and finding new technologies that can make it a sustainable alternative.
Bioplastics - Plastic Pollution

Can plastic be eliminated from our lives?

  • YES
  • Countries and organizations, including the UN, are taking an initiative to beat plastic pollution and production.
  • Countries are phasing out single-use plastics and unnecessary plastic usage.
  • The solution to plastic pollution is more than just recycling plastic. Rapidly reducing plastic production and decreasing its market demand will be more effective than recycling plastic.
  • This requires mass behavioural change and shunning the business as usual approach.
  • Zero waste lifestyles is an emerging and sustainable trend that can gradually end the demand for plastics but is not practically feasible for everyone.

What can YOU do to reduce plastic consumption?

  • There are various eco-friendly alternatives and substitutes for plastic use. For example, Hemp is a plant that can be used for industrial purposes to produce cloth, ropes etc.
  • Plastic segments are recycled by using them to construct roads, make clothes, and create recyclable bags. 
  • Selective consumerism: Eliminate the consumption of plastic items or packaging unless necessary.
  • Attend garbage cleanups to help your community.
  • Many alternatives are emerging in the market, made up of recycled plastic or sustainable material such as bamboo, recycled plastic, wood, metal, cloth and glass. However, none of them is perfect and usage depends on the purpose for which it is to be used. Eg. Single-use wooden spoons are made by cutting trees and are coated with toxic polish, which is harmful to humans.
Single-use Plastic BagsReusable Cloth Bags
Plastic Tooth BrushesWooden or Bamboo Tooth Brushes
Plastic StrawsMetal Straws
Single-use Plastic Bottles and ContainersMetal, bamboo, terracotta or glass bottles and containers
Single-use Plastic Coffee CupsMetal Coffee Thermos

Final words

Plastic alternatives are only temporary solutions but the lifestyle changes you make can have an impact on the world. Let’s beat plastic pollution and make this world a better place
Remember, Change Begins with YOU!

Researched and Written by Ruhi Nadkarni, Team ulaunch.

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