“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” – Robert Swan
India is the Global host for 2018’s World Environment Day and the theme this year is “Beat Plastic Pollution”. From pens and water bottles to replacement heart valves and aerospace mouldings, plastics are omnipresent. 500 billion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Moreover, 50% of plastics we use are single use only. With 10 million tonnes ending up in our oceans every year, plastic pollution is the biggest threat to the environment right now.
Plastics clog the drainage system and pollute water bodies. They are responsible for the death of thousands of aquatic animals. Plastics partially breakdown to form smaller particles called as micro-plastics that are 5mm or lesser in size which are about the size of a sesame seed. These can easily enter into fishes and end up on our dinner tables. Computer models suggest that oceans hold as many as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles. WHO launched a health review after a study revealed micro-plastic content in 90% of the tested mineral water bottles collected from around the world. Microbeads, on the other hand, are tiny polyethylene plastic used as exfoliants in toothpaste and beauty products and can easily seep through water filters.
The use of microbeads in products was recently banned in the US. Laws affecting the end user is always more effective compared to those on manufacturers when it comes to plastic bags. Ireland, for example, introduced a tax for plastic bags, costing 33 cents (Rs. 26) and the usage dropped by 94% within weeks. In Rwanda (a developing country in Africa), smuggling of plastic bags can lead to imprisonment and is, therefore, plastic bag free nation since 2008. Sweden recently reached zero trash levels and generated revenue by importing plastic wastes from other countries due to their advanced recycling units.
India is emerging as a global leader in combating plastic pollution given that it has one of the highest recycling rates in the world. Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP) a constituent of Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed a unique process that converts plastic bags to petroleum. This project is in the process of being commercialized. Rudra Environmental solutions in Pune has a setup that converts a ton of plastic cans to 600 litres of fuel, 20-25% synthetic gases and 5-10% residual char that could be used as road fillers. Innovations like these are essential for recycling of plastics and needs to be given much needed attention and funding by the Government. On a ground level, we can do our bit by opting alternatives of plastics in our daily lives.
Conservation over convenience is the only way to save our planet as we know it.
Akhila M.P. is a research scholar in Yenepoya Research Centre. She is working on angiogenesis inhibition in Glioma.