Disposable plastics, also known as single-use plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These include things like plastic bags, coffee stirrers, water bottles, straws, soda and most food packaging items. The plastic used in such products is practically low-grade i.e. not recommended to be reused. It often leeches chemicals and is hard to recycle. Many times, it lands in dumping grounds around the globe, gathering in our oceans, where it threatens marine life to extinction.
Globally, 300 million tons of plastic are produced roughly every year and half of these are disposable! Only 10-13% of plastic items are recycled. Nature of petroleum-based disposable plastic makes it hard to recycle so new virgin materials and chemicals are added to it for the purpose of recycling. Also, there are a restricted number of items recycled plastic can be used to build. Over 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. One study found that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Micro-plastics, which are small enough to enter the food chain, have been discovered to contaminate bottled water.
Statistics have shown that about 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated across India daily, with some 6,000 tonnes remaining uncollected. Much of this is produced from single-use plastic, such as PET bottles. According to more current news, India’s 1.3 billion population produces 25,000 metric tons of plastic per day. Around 60% of that is recycled as per government claims but civil society groups put the figure closer to 40 %.
SUP? It’s Harmful
Although plastic will not biodegrade i.e. decompose into a natural substance like soil, it will break down into tiny particles after many years. During this process, it releases toxic chemicals and additives that were first used to shape and harden it, which make their way into our food and water supply.
These toxic chemicals even reach our bloodstream. Latest researches have linked them to infertility, cancer, impaired immunity, birth defects, and many other ailments.
The Thailand Pilot Whale
Volunteers, veterinarians and even enthusiastic rescue workers could not save a male pilot whale, discovered in Thailand near the Malaysian border this June, which died after suffering for 5 days. The reason? Dozens of plastic bags, weighing nearly 7.7 kilograms (17 pounds), jamming the whale’s stomach!
Photos that were posted on social media displayed many long, black plastic bags. So much so that the authorities were running out of room to manoeuvre in the operating room without standing on trash. A bundle of white plastic was also shown next to innards stretching across an operating table.
A marine biologist and lecturer at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, said in a press statement that the plastic probably prevented the ill-fated whale from digesting food. The whale was reported to consume a total of 80 plastic bags (Check more here).
Moreover, a 10-meter sperm whale weighing nearly 6,800 kilograms was found dead on a Spanish beach in April. An autopsy revealed more than 60 pounds of trash clogging its digestive system. According to a National Geographic report, some of the more than 30 beached sperm whales beached in Europe in 2016, were found with plastic debris in their stomachs. The toxic trash also included an engine cover, a large fishing net, and shards of a plastic bucket.
India Banning Single Use Plastic by 2022
India, on the occasion of World Environment Day 2018, pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics from the country by 2022. The year coincides with 75 years of the nation’s independence.
“We make a solemn pledge that we will eliminate all single-use plastics from our country,” the Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan deliberated.
The Guardian reported that India unveiled a campaign to undertake plastic pollution removal along its 4,660 miles coastline and on the same note will seek to make 100 national monuments litter-free.
Erik Solheim, head of U.N. Environment, praised India’s efforts:
“They have shown that political motivation, turned into practical action, can inspire the world and ignite real change.” (Check more here).
Due to continuous reports of harm caused to animals, both terrestrial as well as marine, from either ingestion or being trapped in plastic, the Maharashtra government on 23rd March banned the manufacture and import of plastic bags and other disposable products made of plastic or thermocol. Violators will be fined ₨ 5000 and Rs 10,000 for the first and second-time offense as per the notification issued. For a third time, the offender has to pay Rs 25,000 and may face imprisonment for a period of 3 months (Check more here).
Ikea and the Plastic Ban
Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant, said it will terminate use of all single-use plastic products from its shops and restaurants by 2020. It is also aiming at purchasing 100% renewable energy by 2020, using only renewable and recycled materials in its products. At the same time, it wants to make zero emission home deliveries by 2025.
Ikea has invested €1.7 billion ($2 billion) into renewable energy projects. It is also planning to build 416 wind turbines with 750,000 solar panels installed already around and on IKEA buildings (Check more here).
Indian corporate entities are also moving ahead to beat single-use plastic. Manas Fuloria, CEO of a Gurugram-based software company with 4,000 employees, said they gave up SUP items in their meeting rooms and cafeterias. Deepak Ohlyan, an employee at a computer technology company has shared some interesting and productive information. He said that his company is creating world’s first commercial-scale global ocean plastics supply chain. That is to say, they are pulling plastics out of oceans and turning them into materials for the company’s products. On a more specific note, the plastics used in their XPS 13 2-in-1 laptop are manufactured from a mixture that includes 25% plastic pulled straight from oceans.
Manufacturing companies are even making clothes out of recycled plastic. An example is of Roshan Baid, managing director of a sportswear company. His company uses recycled polyester from plastic bottles in their products (Check more here).
Eco-friendly Ways to End SUP Use
- Say No to Plastic Bags: Use cloth bags, biodegradable plastic bags, upcycled plastic bags or backpack of your own.
- Stop Buying Plastic Water Bottles: Stop accepting complimentary water bottles in flights or during a business meeting, use durable water bottle filtered water, water bottled with a filter, or a portable water filter.
- Don’t use plastic straws when alternatives are present: Use natural bamboo straws, stainless steel straws, paper straws or think of interesting inventions like the Mexican Avocado seed straws.
- Think before you buy toothbrushes, sanitary napkins: Use Bamboo toothbrushes, biodegradable tampons and pads by Hey Day and Drion. You can even use cotton pads made at home. Washable cloth pads by EcoFemme and Jaioni can also be used.
- Restrict use of disposable cutlery: Biodegradable cutlery and food containers to be used in marriages or during other functions can be bought from:
- Pappco Green Ware
- Green Handle
- Edible cutlery made from Jowar can be found at Nammboomi and Bakeys.
- Encourage your offices to go Single Use plastic-free: Include cafe owners, shopkeepers or stores to obey rules in order to end this menace.
- Use eco-friendly options while traveling too: Companies like ResponsibleTravel.com has introduced “No Single Use Plastic Holidays” featuring trips all over the world where no single-use plastic is utilized in restaurants, hotels or during travel.
Adeela Hameed is pursuing Masters in Environmental Sciences at Amity University, Noida.