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Editorial Articles

volume-50,16-22 March,2019

War against Plastic Peril

Dr. Shri Nath Sahai

It was after the World War II that spurt and escalation in the production of plastics started. And now, plastic is widely used; occupying every space, everywhere in the various forms and shapes. In the year 2015 world produced 448 million tonnes of plastic, that was more than twice as much created in 1998. China makes the largest amount of plastic, followed by North America and the Europe. In India about 178 million tones of plastic was produced for 'house use' during 2018. The production growth is high, showing no trend of slowing down.

Plastic is being used now enormously in packaging things like plastic bottles, consumer goods of all kinds, cellphones, refrigerators. They are used in household furnitures, construction materials and pipes etc. It is also used in cars, two wheelers and for clothing, usually as polyester and other microfiber material. Over 35 percent of the plastic produced is used for packaging like water bottles.

Plastic Waste: Plastic is used very hugely on one hand, and on another hand, it is made a 'quick-waste' immediately. A study by co-author Jenna Jambeck of University of Georgia calculates that of the 9.1 billion tonnes of plastic produced, nearly 7 billion tones are no longer used. That, only 9 percent got recycled and another 12 percent was incinerated; leaving 5.5 billion tones of it being dumped as waste on land and in water.

Unlike other material, plastic is such a stuff as it does not give way and crack. Therefore, nearly 75 percent of this stuff results in waste; lying scattered on the land, dumped in the landfills and made floating in the lakes, rivers and oceans.

Ocean of Plastic Waste: A study published in Scientific Reports mentions that the vast dumps of bottles, children toys, broken electronic, containers, abandoned fishing nets and microparticles swirling in the Pacific Ocean, is now bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined. Nearly 80,000 tonnes of plastic have been found, which is equal to the weight of 500 Jumbo Jets. This is 16 times greater the plastic -mass uncovered previously. More than eight million tones of plastic enter the oceans every year, accumulating in five giant garbage patches around the planet.

Plastic Ban: Plastic waste is a big issue today. To rid the environment of this menace, which has been going up in the food-chain, the European Union has proposed ban on single-use plastics, stirrers, ballon sticks and cotton buds. It has urged the collection of the most plastic bottles by 2025. The proposals call for the member states to reduce use of plastic food containers and drinking cups. Food chain is affected most by the problem of plastic, all over the world. Sea turtles are killed by the amount of rubbish and so is affected the wildlife.

To meet the challenge of global marine population, Britain commited £ 61.4 (Rs. 576 crores) for sake of global research and to improve waste- management in developing countries.

In India, several state govts. have strictly enforced the ban on use of plastic. In Uttar Pradesh, the High Court had directed in 2015, to issue notification enforcing complete ban on plastic. Govt. had issued an ordinance, banning manu-facturing and use of polythene less than 50 micron, plastic bags and thermocol. From August 15, 2018 manufacturing, storage and distribution of cup, plate, glass

and spoon etc. from plastic and thermocol have been banned completely. Any defiance of this order entails fine upto Rs. 25,000/- and jail term. Bestrewing plastic material on roads, in drains, lakes, rivers and oceans are also punish-able. Railway department had also accepted to implement this ban to save the environment.

Alternatives: People perceive, the scheme is 'good' but feel, the substitutes will cost more. There

is great shortage of polythene options and even what is available, there is great disparity in prices. The prices of Cloth and jute bags have shot up very high, putting financial strain on them. cloth bags, usually available earlier for Rs. 350-400 are being charged at Rs. 600 per bag by the shops. Roadside eateries are costlier now, with the increase of cost in packaging. Consumers of eating-points, restaurants, cafes, dhabas resent more than shop managers. There is need to make eco-friendly, cheap products to serve food at the same cost. Use of malik, in place of plastic bowls, makes the dishes costlier. Durable newspaper or cloth bags, reusable glasses and crockeries are needed for delivery work. Lack of sustainable alternatives will destroy the very purpose of saying 'no to plastic'.

The newly constituted Matikala Board in Uttar Pradesh is promoting use of Kulhads (clay cups) as alternative to plastic - cups. State govt. will make available land - pattas, free electricity and free transfer of technology to the artisans; besides waving off all the taxes. Special pottery hubs will also be set up. This will be environment friendly measure, as also will provide economic benefits to the potters community, numbering about two crore of the U.P's population.

How Damaging? : Owing to the ingredients used, 6 kg CO2 is generated in the manufacture of 1 kg plastic these products are harmful. For instance in Maharashtra, 1800 kg CO2 pollution was generated by each family, because of the use of plastic over 15 years. And 24 crore trees needed to absorb the quantity of CO2 generated by the State's 4 crore families in 15 years.

Buyback Mechanism: In Maharashtra State 2400 tonnes of plastic-waste is generated each day. During the 15 years, 131.4 lakh tones have been generated. To tackle the problem, Maharashtra Govt. has introduced a buyback scheme for waste-plastics, like that being implemented in 40 countries overseas, including U.S, Germany and Norway etc. U.K is also planning to launch it soon. Under the scheme, manufacturers should charge a refundable amount from the purchaser of the bottled or pouched product of plastic. The deposit will be refunded, once bottle is deposited with the retailer or with the reverse vending machines. Onus of collecting and recycling PET (polyethylene terephalate) bottles and milk pouches lies with the manufacturers. Recycling has been made manufacturing licence norm in the Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016. Top breverage-makers like Coca-Cola, Pepsico and Bisleri have been printing buyback value on PET bottles sold in Maharashtra. A consumer must return PET bottles and pouches to claim deposit, instead of littering them on lands or in rivers, which would be punishable offence. The rates of deposits suggested are : Rs. One per bottle of a litre or more, Rs. Two per bottle from 200 ml up to a liter and 50 paise per milk pouch. The recycled plastic will be used for industrial fuel and road building etc. To encourage recycling France makes virgin plastic bottles dearer, replacing them with cheaper ones, produced with recycled plastics. It also plans increased taxes on landfil; reduced value - added tax on recycling activities and a discount in premium system worth upto 10 percent on product price.

E-waste and bio - medical wastes: The Central govt. has amended the existing rules for better management of the e-waste and bio-medical waste and revised target for monitoring under the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). It is now mandatory for the Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROS) to register themselves with the CPCB for better control on them. The electronic goods manufacturers will now be responsible to collect and channel e-waste from the consumers to the authorized dismantlers and recyclers. The e-waste management rules have been amended by environment ministry to suit the environment. For biomedical waste, hospitals and allied clinics have not to use chlorinated plastic bags and gloves. Railway has installed machines at the stations to crush the plastic bottles.

Plastic - Eating Bacteria and Enzyme: According to a report, one student Morgan Vague (Reed College, Oregon) has found a bacteria that is capable of "eating" plastic and potentially breaking it down into harmless by-products.

A few years back, Japanese researchers had discovered a naturally occurring bacterium known as Ideonella Sakaiensis, appearing to feed exclusively on a type of plastic, known as polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used in plastic bottles. While aiming to understand how one of its enzymes - called PETase worked, the scientists subsequently found another enzyme cutinse in fungus and bacteria. And when they mutated the PETase to make it more like the cutinase, they found this mutant enzyme was even better, that could enable full recycling of plastic. Now researchers are working on further improvement of the enzyme for the industrial use.                    

War Against Plastic: 'Beat Plastic Pollution' has been the theme of this year's World Environment Day (June 5, 2018), of which India was the host. The Govt. of India has written to all states and Union territories to start a massive campaign against the use of single-use plastics and make the use of carry-bags of less than 50 microns in thickness, illegal. Even earlier also in the year 2016, the use of polythene bags of the said thickness was banned. But most of the States could not enforce it, facing vendors and small businessmen opposition, especially at eating joints, showing lack of alternatives. This time, the Environment Ministry has sensitized the States to a great deal. Many States have made out their action plan, and some corporate houses have banned plastic used for making bags etc.

India strives assuming the role of global leader, for eliminating plastic pollution.

Creating Public Consciou-sness: Students are more alive to the prevailing plastic peril and have taken up the issue to making the public aware of it, through posters, banners, slogans, songs and playing street - plays. For example, In La Martiniere Girls College, Lucknow (U.P) items like shopping bags, pouches, large carry-bags and cushion covers etc., made out of worn - out clothes and such waste materials, were exhibited, as replacement to plastic, for the knowledge of public. To eliminate plastic, complete sensitivity of people is needed.

The author is an academician based in Lucknow. E-mail: shrin sahai29in@yahoo.com

Views expressed are personal.