Only over a century, old plastics are made from fossil fuels. After World War II, production and development of thousands of new plastic products intensified, so transforming the modern age will make life without plastics unrecognizable today. Plastics have revolutionized medicine with life-saving equipment, allowed space travel, lightened cars and jets, saved fuel and pollution, and saved lives with helmets, incubators, and clean drinking water equipment.
Journey of Plastics
However, the conveniences provided by plastics contributed to a throw-away culture that exposes the dark side of the material: today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic manufactured each year. Many of these items have a lifetime of mere minutes to hours, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, but they can survive for hundreds of years in the environment.
Problems of Plastics
Plastic contamination has become one of the most urgent environmental challenges, as the world's capacity to cope with them is overwhelmed by the increasingly growing development of disposable plastic items. In developing Asian and African nations, plastic waste is most noticeable, where garbage collection systems are either ineffective or non-existent. But the developed world also has trouble collecting discarded plastics correctly, especially in countries with low recycling rates. Plastic trash has become so prevalent that attempts to draw up a global treaty signed by the United Nations have been promoted.
Because of our overdependence on plastic packaging and lack of awareness about its end-of-cycle disposal, humanity is facing the brunt of packaging pollution. Many organizations are working to make our nation free from plastic waste. The goal is to bring together key stakeholders in order to tackle packaging pollution and lead India towards environmental sustainability, i.e. government, companies, media, academicians.
Simply stated, single-use plastics are products manufactured mainly from chemicals (petrochemicals) based on fossil fuels and are intended to be disposed of right after use, often in mere minutes. For packaging and facilities, such as bottles, wrappers, straws, and sacks, single-use plastics are most widely used. While plastic, basically a chain of synthetic polymers, was invented in the mid-19th century, its popularity did not grow until the 1970s. Manufacturers have typically substituted paper or glass staples with lighter or more durable and inexpensive plastic alternatives; plastic jugs, for example, have replaced milk jars. 8.3 billion Metric tons of plastics have been manufactured since the 1950s, and half of that has been produced in the past 15 years alone.
There are many uses for plastic, such as surgical gloves or straws for people with disabilities, which are not only appropriate but necessary. But a small fraction of single-use plastic makes up these cases. More than half of the non-fibre plastic, which excludes synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon, comes from plastic packaging alone, according to a 2017 report, much of which is for single-use products.
- How to define single-use plastics
The parameters for defining SUPs (Single-use plastics) should be the recycling rate & value, secure reusability and job generation.
As a single-use plastic, plastics that have no reusability and are not necessarily recycled should be considered. E.g. chips/biscuits/wrappers of chocolate/gutka, packets of poly, thermo-Colum, tetra box.
There is a post-use economy in India, which recycles used packaging materials into different items for everyday use. Some plastic waste, such as PP, PET, HDPE, serves other industries as raw materials and helps the recycling economy. Any of these recycled packets will, if obtained, be reused/reused to generate value-added items.
Read Our Blog: Importance of Plastic Recycling
- Why is single-use plastic considered bad?
A blatant illustration of the issues of throwaway culture is single-use plastics. We frequently favour convenience over longevity and consideration of long-term consequences instead of investing in quality products that will last. Our dependence on these plastics means that we have a staggering rate of accumulation of waste. Every year worldwide, we manufacture 300 million tons of plastic, half of which is for single-use products. That's almost equal to the whole human population's weight.
More commonly, recycling more plastic decreases its footprint. From polyester cloth to car parts, polyethylene terephthalate, one of the most widely recycled plastics and the material that makes up most water and soda bottles, can be converted into anything. Yet a whopping 91% of all plastic isn't at all recycled. Instead, it ends up in the atmosphere or in landfills. In particular, single-use plastics, especially small items such as straws, bags, and cutlery, are historically difficult to recycle because they slip into recycling machinery crevices and are thus often not accepted by recycling centres.
Plastics don't even break down, left alone; they just break up. Sun and heat slowly transform plastics into smaller and smaller parts over time, until they become what are known as micro-plastics finally. It is difficult to detect these microscopic plastic particles, no more than 5 millimetres long, which are just about everywhere. Some micro-plastics, like the micro-beads used in facial scrubs or the microfibers in polyester garments, are also small by nature.
- Pollution caused by single-use plastics
While single-use plastic waste accumulates on our streets most visibly, our water is actually suffering even more. In a waste stream that reaches waterways, litter may be the first move as plastics tossed on the street are washed away by rain or travel into rivers and streams through storm drains. In particular, our waterway plastic pollution is concentrated: only ten rivers carry 93 percent of the total amount of plastic in the world that enters the oceans every year through rivers.
Researchers at the University of Georgia reported in 2015 that between 4.8 million and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic a year was carried into the oceans by people living within 30 miles of a coastline. Most of this pollution, dominated by single-use plastic waste, comes from countries that lack infrastructure, especially in Asia, to properly manage waste. For instance, India generates 25,940 tons of plastic waste every day, but only 60 percent of it is collected. (It is also important to note that waste management is only one aspect of the global cycle of materials.
Plastic pollution affects marginalized populations first, whether it is in our seas, piling up on our coastlines, or leading to our climate crisis. While plastic does not end up in the ocean, recycled plastic is often exported for processing from high-income countries to developing countries. But before they are drowning under thousands of tons of plastic garbage, the sheer volume of plastic waste floods cities. This is especially the case in Southeast Asia, which has begun to import most of the plastic for recycling that used to go to China. Not only does the waste kill the land itself, but the poisonous emissions easily become a health hazard for communities when plastic is incinerated (as is the case for unrecyclable plastic at certain unauthorized facilities), leading to everything from skin rashes to cancer. With many environmental problems, this is the case: the worst impacts are pushed on overloaded populations with the least resources to fight back.
Factors that define recycling and non-recycling plastics
- It is the feasibility of post-usage selection and value formation.
- Nobody's throwing gold away! Jewelers melt and forge old jewelry into new ones. For plastics, the same method can be applied.
- The small/flimsy MLP almost never gets collected, such as tetra-pack, FMCG packaging, polybags. Multi-layer packaging is made of paper+plastics+aluminum, so it is impossible to recycle in the recycling ecosystem and has zero value.
- Ways to eliminate MLP packaging/single-use plastic waste
The natural cycle is characterized by these three phases in sequential order: growth, sustenance and destruction. Destruction plays as important a function as development in order to protect our ecosystem and preserve order. Multi-layer packaging is one of the most widely used plastics worldwide. In the last 20 years, trillions of packets have ended up in bodies of water and landfills. Globally, governments, scientists, innovators, companies and entrepreneurs are searching for eco-friendly alternatives, but MLP does not currently have a widely developed alternative.
Creating understanding is the first step to the solution. Knowledge of the products/brands that have caused our planet irreversible harm and highlight their alternative eco-friendly brands/products. To understand the extent of harm caused to our environment by packaging emissions, a comprehensive report to be submitted and shared with key stakeholders-govt. bodies and policymakers across states, faith-based organisations, bureaucrats, media through beats, NGOs, alliances, etc.
Second, the emphasis is on seeking a solution; it can be done by imagination, leadership, technology, etc.
Single-use plastics is a serious issue and would lead to the destruction of the environment if not considered soon. Steps and various laws and rules are being made but they must be followed and scientist around the globe have to find a way to solve this crisis. It must be started from the people themselves, where single-use plastics can be replaced, they must be replaced. Something that is more eco-friendly, doesn’t matter if it’s costly or whatever but steps have to be taken in furtherance of cleaning the environment from the plastic pollution. ‘Those who trade their freedom for temporary liberty, deserves neither.’ It is high time we understand that.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not corpseed, and have not been evaluated by corpseed for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.
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