Usage of plastic started out as a revolutionary event. It was invented when the natural resources couldn’t suffice the unlimited needs of people. The seed for the development was plastic was sown by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869 by inventing synthetic polymer. The history of plastic witnessed the next breakthrough in 1907, when Leo Baekeland developed synthetic plastic whose molecules are completely alien to what is found in nature. The decades following it saw the development of a market for plastic with investors flooding in to invest their money in the promising industry.[i]
Plastic was easily one of the most convenient consumer products for so many reasons. Once it entered the consumer market, it’s use spread like wildfire and it found a permanent place in every household. The usage of single-use plastics became a trend at one point. The gruesome consequences of plastic was overshadowed by the convenience it provided. Now is the high time we stop the usage of plastic and this article will insights on why.
Plastic, an addictive:
Plastic attracted people’s attention since it’s invention for so many reasons. The spread of plastic in such a high rate is due to the light weight, resistant and waterproof nature of it. In the modern era, life is unimaginable without gadgets and electronics. Most of their hardware components are made with plastic due to it’s insulation properties. This made it easier for the developers as plastic gave them a huge support in developing new devices. Imagine stripping our gadgets off it’s plastic components and you will know how hard it gets without it. Similarly, our plumbing systems have a longer life because of the usage of plastic. The non corrosive property of plastic pipes, valves etc.makes it tremendously beneficial.
The packaging industry made the most out of plastic usage right in front of our eyes. Plastic films, bubble wraps, plastic tapes are an inevitable part of packaging now. The food industry consumed plastic in huge amounts for its property of containing food without spoiling it as well as it being flexible enough to pack all kinds of food.
The food and packaging industry are also the main contributors of plastic proliferation and subsequently, plastic pollution.[ii] Some types of plastics in use are
- PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) – packaging food and drinks.
- HDPE (high-density polyethylene) – banners, milk jugs.
- PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – water pipes, wiring and cables.
- LDPE (low-density polyethylene) – packaging foam, snap-on lids.
- PS (polystyrene) – thermocol, thin packs for consumer goods.
- PP (polypropylene) – tupperware, bottle caps
India is found to be the second largest consumer of plastic use and 10% – 15% of these are throwaway polythene bags, plastic films for used for serving food on, plastic straws and cups. As the name suggests, single-use plastics are to be used once and thrown away. Hygiene is one of the factors due to which this trend was accepted widely. However, this led to mass proliferation of plastic waste. These plastics are mostly recyclable. Unfortunately, the world is not equipped, or being too lethargic about it take the required initiative to recycle all these wastes. A report from the U.N. states that only 9% of plastic wastes are being recycled.[iii] Single-use plastics are everywhere around us, for instance,
- Plastic plates, forks, spoons
- Plastic films
- Plastic water bottles
- Cigarette butts
- Foam take-away containers and so on.
It was 1997 when a researcher named Charles Moore spotted the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Located between Hawaii and California, it is the largest plastic accumulation zone in the world. A video of a plastic straw stuck in the nostrils of a turtle went viral, which sparked the awareness in people about plastic pollution. Initiatives by National Geography also delivered the message to every nook and corner. The marine life gets adversely impacted by the mass let out of plastic waste into the ocean. It has been found that currently, up to 74% of the consumption of sea turtles are filled with plastics. Seagulls and other lives which live in the coasts also consume these plastics.
Ban on plastics:
Bangladesh is the first country to impose a ban on plastic bags in 2002 after discovering that a disastrous flooding that hit the country was due to plastic clogging the drainage system. Countries have their own policies and rules on limiting the use of plastic. In January, 2018, the UK government announced its plan to curb usage of plastics. They have managed to inculcate the habit of reusing in their citizens by imposing a cost of 5 pence on buying new plastic bags since 2015. But an applaudable step by the UK is their ban on microbeads that is found in cosmetics. Microbeads are very tiny plastic particles that do not dissolve in water after use. These microplastics end up in the oceans and subsequently in the bodies of all marine life. These microbeads are found in face washes, toothpastes, body washes, etc. Canada also had imposed a full ban on microbeads from January, 2018.
In India, Himachal Pradesh banned the use of plastic plates way back in 2002. This was followed by many other states in India who are trying to take legislative action on effective plastic ban. Delhi, the capital city of India, with a booming population has banned plastic plates, cups, forks, and other cutlery in the year ¬¬¬. Recently, Tamil Nadu imposed an elaborate ban on single-use plastics. Let’s delve into the rules of the ban to get insights into the ban.
- Use and throwaway plastics should not be manufacture or traded or imported
- Use and throwaway plastics should not be used by the vendors, shopkeepers and any person carrying out a business.
There are some exemptions in this case are as follows,
- Carry bags manufactured exclusively for the purpose of export in plastic industries that are located in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs).
- When plastic bag’s use is mandatory wherein the goods are sealed in the manufacturing units before it comes to the hands of people.
- When a government order has been obtained to use plastics in forestry and horticulture nurseries.
- Plastics used for packaging milk and other dairy products, oil medicine as well as medical equipment.
- Carry bags made of compostable plastics.
A full fledged ban on plastics throughout the country is in fact not possible. State governments are moving it ever so smoothly towards a plastic free environment starting with curbing of single-use plastics. Starting from 2016, Indian states set out on a mission to ban plastics as Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared at the 14th session of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) that his country will ban plastics. It was however impossible to execute a uniform ban throughout the country. It has been happening gradually. Nationwide steps were taken regarding the disposal and reuse of plastic waste. The plastic waste management, 2016 replaced the one that was enacted in 2011. Some remarkable features of this rules are,
- Extended Producer Responsibility(ERP) has been introduced in this act. We’re seeing an alarming rate of pollution around us and vesting all the environmental responsibility with the state is not right. ERP demands every single producer especially manufacturers of plastic, to take appropriate measures to recycle or proper disposal of their plastic items. They are expected to formulate a plan and discuss it with the local authorities for its execution.
- Plastic bags or multilayer packaging will not be registered by the State Pollution Control Board unless the appropriate plans for managing their wastes have been proposed and convinced the State Development Department.
- Street vendors, shopkeepers and other small businessmen are to register with the local bodies with a fee inorder to use plastic bags or packages. Violating this rule will attract a fine.
- There is a clear cut aim of phasing out multi-layered non-recyclable plastic from the Indian markets in a period of two years.
- These rules contain the nuances of plastic unlike the rules it replaced. There is a lot of mention about the types of plastics in this rule, laying emphasis on getting rid of the more toxic ones.
In a case that was brought before the Madras High Court[iv], the ban on plastic was challenged on two grounds. One is that non-woven plastics are not harmful to the environment and the other that the ban on plastics has violated their fundamental rights by depriving so many people of employment and endangering the whole business of plastic manufacturers. The court held that the ban on all single -use plastics was a very appropriate measure taken by the state because it generates so much of plastic waste in general. The management of these wastes is a herculean task in hand and this is the best way to tackle it. Also, it is scientifically proven that not all non-woven plastics are eco-friendly. About the violation of fundamental rights, the court compared the state action to the land acquisition for industrial development. In the interest of the greater public, some costs must be incurred.
Plastic cannot be fully banned. It causes an enormous backlash in the economy, daily life of citizens and the development of technology. Usage of plastic can only be controlled and contained with the invention of appropriate methodologies to dispose them in an eco-friendly manner. Emphasis at this point must be laid on investment in waste disposal. The global ocean cleanup initiatives are doing their best to clean the ocean and save marine life. However, it is an impossible task to get rid of plastic from the very root as it is already in the bodies of all sea creatures and through them in our own too.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] The history and future of plastics, https://www.sciencehistory.org/the-history-and-future-of-plastics.
[ii] Benefits of Plastics,http://www.historyofplastic.com/plastic-facts/benefits-of-plastic/
[iii]Single-use plastics, a roadmap to sustainability, https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainability.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
[iv] Chennai Non Woven’s Private Limited, represented by its Authorised Secretary, T. Sreenivasan Versus State of Tamil Nadu, represented by its Secretary to Government Environment and Forest (EC2), Department Fort St. George, Chennai – 600 009 and Others  6 MLJ 1