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Single-use plastics: Origin, scale and the real problem

With India finally taking the issue of disposable plastics seriously, here is the first of our three explainers dedicated towards the prohibition of single-use plastics, consequences of misuse and ways to minimise their usage.

Apoorva Gupta Apoorva Gupta
New Delhi Updated on: October 01, 2019 21:56 IST
Single-use plastics: Origin, scale and the real problem

Single-use plastics: Origin, scale and the real problem

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, emphasised the importance of giving up on the usage of single-use plastics in India. Later, while launching the National Animal Disease Control Programme, he added there would be some major efforts in trying to stop the use of single-use plastic implemented with effect from October 2.

 
With India finally taking the issue of disposable plastics seriously, here is the first of our three explainers dedicated towards the prohibition of single-use plastics, consequences of misuse and ways to minimise their usage.

First things first, what are single-use plastics?

Single-use plastics, commonly known as 'one-use plastics', are the use-and-throw types of plastic that are mainly used for packaging and other daily routine activities. They are easy to produce, use less resources and are not expensive at all.

From wrapping papers, vegetable bags, to toothbrushes, we are surrounded by plastic so much that it is almost next to impossible to imagine our lives without it. From the bottles that we use for storing drinking water to the disposable containers in which our food is delivered, our dependence on plastics is alarming, considering its impacts on the environment and people.

Though everyone reads about it, nobody takes the impact of plastic as seriously as it should be taken. Careless usage, bad disposing habits and no serious efforts to curb the usage are taking a huge toll on the overall environment on the face of the earth.

Hence, this explainer details on why you should get rid of plastics. Because one day when every human on the face of this planet dies, plastic, my friends, will still survive.

1. Let's start with the very basics -- It pollutes the environment.

You must've heard it a million times and probably would've read it even more, but we'll tell you again. Plastic is a pollutant and it has the ability to put an end to several species altogether. The environment destruction is a real thing and it's happening way more quickly than you think. Here's two instances to prove the aftermath of single-use plastics.

  • In July 2018, during a high tide, the Arabian sea threw almost 2,15,000 kg of waste on the Mumbai shore that was previously dumped in it. The glitzy financial capital of India was turned into a dumpyard. What's more alarming is the fact that most of the garbage that the sea puked out was plastic.

India Tv - Garbage dump by a high sea tide on the Marine Drive, Mumbai

Garbage dump by a high sea tide on the Marine Drive, Mumbai

  • In 2019, Dallas businessman Victor Vescovo claimed to have found a plastic bag and candy wrappers at the bottom of Mariana Trench during the deepest manned dive ever done. For the unversed, Mariana Trench is the deepest point on the surface of the earth in the Pacific ocean. What is really disturbing is that the deepest of the seas are even affected by the plastic plaque.And it's not even the first time: It's the third time plastic has been documented in the deepest explored part of the ocean.

India Tv - Plastic waste in the deep oceans.

Plastic waste in the deep oceans.

  • Another distressing case included 11,000 kg of garbage being collected from Mt Everest during a two-month long cleanliness drive conducted by the Nepal government.

The heights and depths don't matter anymore. Plastic is everywhere.

2. It is responsible for the death of many animal species.

How often have you seen a cow chewing on a plastic bag and swallowing it? Many. Right? Well animals are a lot more prone to the consequences of plastic pollution with many of them dying after consuming it and we have examples to prove that. At least 100 million marine mammals are killed each year due to plastic pollution.

India Tv - A whale beached on the shore of the Philippines with plastic waste in its stomach. 

A whale beached on the shore of the Philippines with plastic waste in its stomach. 

Land animals like cows and dogs often eat tend to eat plastic while looking for food. Birds can get trapped in them and become prone to wing disability, which further reduces their chances of surviving. Albatross parents often mistake colorful debris for sea life and feed it to their chicks, which can prove fatal. According to the Marine Pollution Bulletin, cetaceans are ingesting plastic debris at a rate as high as 31 per cent, and in turn, 22 per cent of those cetaceans were at an increased risk of death.

3. Microplastics are affecting the food chain.

Plastics, over the years, get torn and break into tiny little pieces. These pieces, when less than 5 mm in size are often known as microplastics. They are so small that they can pass through most things and can travel easily too. Microplastics in soil are absorbed by the plants that are eaten by humans. They can seep through the soil and reach the groundwater, which in turn is used for drinking by animals as well as humans and is also used for watering the plants. These microplastics also reach major water bodies and affect marine life. Rest are breathed in by humans and animals in the form of air.
 
Microplastics are extemely harmful and cause a plethora of fatal diseases including cancer, bronchitis, etc.

4. They are non-biodegradable.

This is yet another very serious fact that is not taken seriously. Plastics are being dumped in the landfills and deep seas for years and years. Out of all the plastic used by humans, 33 per cent of all plastic -- water bottles, bags and straws -- are used just once and thrown away.
 
Just some facts to make you understand the seriousness of the cause:

  •  Humans buy about 10,00,000 plastic bottles per minute in total. Only about 23 per cent of plastic bottles is recycled within the US.
  • It is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually.
  • Only 1 per cent of plastic bags are returned for recycling.
  • Half a million straws are used in the world every day

5. Plastic attracts other pollutants.

Plastics have added chemicals like flame retardants, bisphenols, phthalates and other harmful chemicals that give it rigidity or flexibility. They are oily poisons that repel water and stick to petroleum based objects like plastic debris. Hence, the toxic chemicals that leach out of plastics can accumulate on other plastics. This is a very serious concern with increasing amounts of plastic debris accumulating in the world's oceans.
 
Till we arrive with the second explainer, let's try #DoOurBit!

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