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Plastic Menace

Throwing a plastic bag into the garbage “I know that I am throwing a plastic bag into the garbage.”  That awareness alone helps us protect the Earth, make peace, and take care of life in the present moment and in the future.  If we are aware, naturally we will try to use fewer plastic bags.  This is an act of peace, a basic kind of peace action.

-Thich Nhat Hanh in Peace Is Every Step

We are driven by greed and lust to “to grow” which is the cause of all social and environmental problems we face today.  In the fast paced life everyone wishes to “go for a short cut” so that it will save their energy and time (Ramachandra Guha rightly says in his book “How much a Person Should Consume” about this revolution as ” More people, Producing More, Travelling more, Consuming more and Excreting more”). This has led to misuse of our natural resources, apart from being a cause for growing social evils. The same has happened with respect to usage of Plastics. Plastics now have become a necessary evil.

Can you imagine your life without plastics? They are found everywhere and we use it in many forms. Right from the computers we use, office furniture’s, containers of different sizes and shapes to polyethylene carry bags-all are made of plastics. The fact that they are very much less biodegradable in nature and are a major source of pollution to the environment always remains hidden in its flexibility to put to different uses, and it’s cheaper price. But we really do not know to differentiate “use” from “misuse”. Present trend shows we are misusing plastics- by using them for purposes, where there is always a better option than plastics. How many of us have the practice of carrying a cloth bag or jute shopper bag, which can be easily folded and kept in our bikes/cars and use it instead of depending on the shop keeper to provide a plastic bag for the materials we purchase? In marriages and hotels in India, serving food in Banana leaf is a symbol of respect. Now plastic leaves in the shape of banana leaves, gets used in social functions. The very act spoils the sanctity of the purpose for which banana leaf is used. Whatever act we do we should remain cautious about the impact we make on the environment, other human beings and the society. In this fast world, we put our need and greed first and this is the mother of all problems the world is facing.

Coming to the facts, around 500 billion plastic bags (500,000,000,000) are used worldwide every year and sadly India’s plastic consumption is one of the highest in the world. Plastics are very resistant to degradation and they will take 300 years to photo degrade. The single use plastic bags that are used by street vendors to mega shopping malls are the biggest menace. Whether you buy fruits, vegetables, grocery, foods, clothes and anything purchased in kgs and litres, they come in attractive packings made of one or more forms of plastic. The pepsi and coke plastic containers add more to the problem. Our locally made soft drinks used to come in glass bottles, which are now replaced by plastic bottles. On your travel from office to home or vice versa observe, for a day the usage of these plastic bags and bottles and you will find how they have encroached our life. The  pleasing and delightful colors in which We are driven by greed and lust to “to grow” which is the cause of all social and environmental problems we face today.  In the fast paced life everyone wishes to “go for a short cut” so that it will save their energy and time (Ramachandra Guha rightly says in his book “How much a Person Should Consume” about this revolution as ” More people, Producing More, Travelling more, Consuming more and Excreting more”). This has led to misuse of our natural resources, apart from being a cause for growing social evils. The same has happened with respect to usage of Plastics. Plastics now have become a necessary evil.Can you imagine your life without plastics? They are found everywhere and we use it in many forms. Right from the computers we use, office furniture’s, containers of different sizes and shapes to polyethylene carry bags-all are made of plastics. The fact that they are very much less biodegradable in nature and are a major source of pollution to the environment always remains hidden in its flexibility to put to different uses, and it’s cheaper price. But we really do not know to differentiate “use” from “misuse”. Present trend shows we are misusing plastics- by using them for purposes, where there is always a better option than plastics. How many of us have the practice of carrying a cloth bag or jute shopper bag, which can be easily folded and kept in our bikes/cars and use it instead of depending on the shop keeper to provide a plastic bag for the materials we purchase? In marriages and hotels in India, serving food in Banana leaf is a symbol of respect. Now plastic leaves in the shape of banana leaves, gets used in social functions. The very act spoils the sanctity of the purpose for which banana leaf is used. Whatever act we do we should remain cautious about the impact we make on the environment, other human beings and the society. In this fast world, we put our need and greed first and this is the mother of all problems the world is facing.  Coming to the facts, around 500 billion plastic bags (500,000,000,000) are used worldwide every year and sadly India’s plastic consumption is one of the highest in the world. Plastics are very resistant to degradation and they will take 300 years to photo degrade. The single use plastic bags that are used by street vendors to mega shopping malls are the biggest menace. Whether you buy fruits, vegetables, grocery, foods, clothes and anything purchased in kgs and litres, they come in attractive packings made of one or more forms of plastic. The pepsi and coke plastic containers add more to the problem. Our locally made soft drinks used to come in glass bottles, which are now replaced by plastic bottles. On your travel from office to home or vice versa observe, for a day the usage of these plastic bags and bottles and you will find how they have encroached our life. The  pleasing and delightful colors in which these bags and bottles are made disguise the cruel face behind them. Plastic usage has become very common even in villages. The soft drink pet bottles used invariably by manual labors and office goers who do white collar job, to carry drinking water, they being unaware of the danger behind reusing such bottles.

In India, plastics consumption grew exponentially in the 1990s. During the last decade, the total consumption of plastics grew twice as fast (12% p.a.) as the gross domestic product growth rate based on purchasing power parities (6% p.a.). The current growth rate in Indian polymer consumption (16% p.a.) is clearly higher than that in China (10% p.a.) and many other key Countries. Average Indian consumption of virgin plastics per capita reached 3.2 kg in 2000/2001 (5 kg if recycled material is included) from a mere 0.8 kg in 1990/1991. However, this is only one-fourth of the consumption in China (12 kg/capita, 1998) and one sixth of the world average (18 kg/capita). This consumption led to more than 5400 tonnes of plastics waste being generated per day in 2000/2001 (totalling 2 million tonnes per annum). (Source: Wikipedia)

The increasing quantities of plastics waste and their effective and safe disposal has become a matter of public concern. The increasingly visible consequences of indiscriminate littering of plastic wastes (in particular plastic packaging wastes and discarded bags) has stimulated public outcry and shaped policy. Littering also results in secondary problems such as drains becoming clogged and animal health problems (both domesticated and wild).

There are different grades and types of plastics though externally they may appear similar. The following are the categories of plastics

  • Grade-1 Plastics: LDPETE – Polyethylene terephthalate ethylene used or soft drinks, detergents, cleaner and peanut butter containers.
  • Grade-2 Plastics: HDLDPE – High density polyethylene used in opaque plastic milk containers, detergents, shampoo bottles and some plastic bags
  • Grade-3 Plastics: PVC-V – Polyvinyl chloride used for making tubular pipes, some squeeze bottles,
  • Grade-4 Plastics: LDLDPE – Low density polyethylene commonly used to make grocery bags, most plastic wraps and some bottles
  • Grade-5 Plastics: PP – Polypropylene – Used to make baby bottles, straws, yoghurt and other clouded plastic containers
  • Grade-6 Plastics: PS – Polystyrene used in Styrofoam food trays, disposable cups,bowls, carry out containers and opaque cutlery
  • Grade-7 Plastics: Others: Usually Polycarbonates used in feeding bottles, 5 gallon containers, sport water bottles etc. The new bio-based plastics also were numbered 7

Many of the plastic containers have this number imprinted in them ranging from 1- 7 from which we can identify the type of plastic used.  According to The Green Guide, a website and magazine focusing on greener living, the safest plastics for repeated use in storing food are categories 2, 4 and 5. Most of the Tupperware containers stick to this standard

The dangers of using/reusing different grades of plastics

#1 PET bottles: Look out the soft drink bottles and water bottles we commonly use. They are not intended for or not suitable for reuse. Yes they were made of #1Plastic most often, which are prone to release phthalates on repeated use which are carcinogenic in nature. How many o us continue to reuse such bottles, without being aware of the potential danger. In India, the growth of MNC soft drinks has replaced not only the local drinks, but also has placed two or three of such bottles in invariably every households. It is a common sight in the villages now that, farm laborers carry drinking water in this bottles.From the poor to rich, they use these bottles repeatedly

#3 PVC plastics: These are used to make water pipelines in households and they have replaced steel pipes in houses constructed because of their cheaper price in India. PVC is found in a wide range of consumer products, such as packaging, credit cards, bottles and imitation leather, as well as in construction material, such as window frames, cables, pipes, window blinds, wallpaper and flooring. In addition to that it is used in car interiors and in hospitals, as medical disposables. PVC does not only leak harmful additives during use (recent testing has showed that children can ingest hazardous chemicals from PVC toys etc) – already the production of PVC creates and releases dioxin and PVC products continue to leak harmful additives during disposal, when they’re burned or buried. Burning creates and releases more dioxins and compounds containing chlorine, which further contaminates the environment. Furthermore phthalates are present in this category as well. They are added to PVC to make it soft and flexible. PVC is difficult to recycle, resulting in much of it ending up in landfills – which we all know is the least favorable outcome from an environmental point of view. Some Governments and industry are taking action to eliminate PVC. Danish and Swedish governments are restricting PVC use, hundreds of communities worldwide are eliminating PVC in buildings and many companies such as Nike, IKEA and The Body Shop have committed to eliminating PVC from their products. Many deli items are packed in PVC plastic containers, so swapping foods out of such wraps one the groceries are home is advisable.

#6 plastics (polystyrene, also known as styrofoam). Containers made of polystyrene can also be dangerous, as its base component, styrene, has been associated with skin, eye and respiratory irritation, depression, fatigue, compromised kidney function, and central nervous system damage. Take-out restaurant orders often come in polystyrene containers, which also should be emptied into safer containers once you get them home.

Apart from these larger environmental problems like clogging of water ways and drainage, the probability of its consumption by ruminants and wild animals leading to their death, air pollution due to burning of such wastes and toys made of low quality plastics flooding the market which pose a threat to child’s health are a cause of concern.

The Policy Note-2012-13, by Environment and Forest Department by the Tamilnadu Government, states the plan of the state Government to Reduce plastic pollution as follows

Mass drive for clearing accumulated plastics: A sum of Rs.5.00 crores was sanctioned for conducting a mass drive for clearing the accumulated plastic with Rs.1.5 crore to Chennai Corporation, Rs. 1.5 crores to Directorate of Town 22 Panchayats, Rs. 1 crore to Commissionerate of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj and Rs. 1 crore to Commissionerate of Municipal Administration. For this purpose, the SHG?s of women were also involved in the collection of waste plastic and throw away plastic materials. Likewise, the local bodies have established collection centres for the collection of waste plastic materials. All the local bodies are vigorously involved in collecting the plastic materials through public participation. As a result of this activity, the entire plastic materials collected will be reused scientifically.

Relaying Roads using plastic wastes: The Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Department had taken up the initiative of laying Bitumen Tar Road mixed with plastic wastes since 2003 and completed the works successfully over a length of 1031 Km at a cost of Rs. 47.30 crores. Similar works were taken up in Chennai Corporation and other Municipal areas. Good performance of these roads led to sanctioning of Rs50 crores for the same in 2011-12. Works covering a total distance of 446.50 kms were taken up by 10 Corporations, 119 Municipalities, 90 Town Panchayats and 45 Village Panchayats.

Apart from this Tamil Nadu is one of the first states to ban use of plastic less than 40 microns thick.  At least 4,000 tonnes of carry bags and throwaway plastics are manufactured in the state. A notification issued by the Union ministry of environment and forests in 2011 banned use of plastic sachets for storing, packing or selling tobacco and pan masala . Tamil Nadu is now gearing up to ban use of plastic with a thickness of less than 60 microns. A legislation is in the offing to enforce the new standard. Only in February 2011, the Centre banned use of plastic with less than 40 microns across the country

As Consumers, what we can do?

  • Avoid plastic grocery bags. Always carry a jute shopper bag or a small cotton bag with you. Paper bags are costly and again they may lead to another environmental problem of cutting more trees.
  • If you buy soft drinks in PET bottles, don’t take care of them as your “Pet”. Break and dispose it quickly in a proper manner
  • Don’t litter Plastics and commit educating others about problems of plastic usage
  • Keep your place, residence, village or at least few streets free of plastics. Spread the awareness of dangers of plastic use
  • Avoid using disposable diapers- a practice borrowed from westerners
  • Do not drink coffee/tea/milk in disposable plastic cups
  • Educate your children about plastics and their problems. At least our future generation, therefore use less plastic  than us
  • And last but not the least, be aware of what you are doing against the nature in every activity and this awareness will make you a responsible citizen

Let us do our part. Of course, we cannot avoid plastic, but we can reduce their usage in day to day life considerably.

In short, Practice Judicial usage of Plastic and Preach about its impact on environment to your neighbors and friends at least. Leave the world better for our future generation.

The Folklore unit of Center for Development Communication of DHAN Foundation with the support of  Department of Environment, Tamilnadu organized a campaign to create awareness to people regarding the impact of Plastics on environment to minimize its use.   Two folk lore teams Punidham Kalai Kuzhu , Puyal Kalai kuzhu and another team comprising of students of Fathima College, Madurai were rope in for the purpose. The campaign extended for 39 days in 16 districts of Tamilnadu. Street plays and folk lore dances on the theme were made in staged for the public. The following were the objectives of the awareness program.

  • To create awareness to general public regarding the ill effects of usage of plastics.
  • To create awareness about environment and need for protecting the same
  • To create awareness about the natural resources and life’s on planet earth.
  • Educate public, school and college students to disseminate the above information as a behavioral change communication.
  • Bringing the issue of plastic to the knowledge of local governance to enact proper resoultions to curtail plastic use.

The key messages highlighted during the campaign were clogging of drainages and water ways by plastics, respiratory problems due to burning of plastics, large scale problems to stray cattle including death of animals by consumption of plastics and plastic waste, clogging of waterways leading to breeding of mosquitos causing spread of several diseases like Malaria, Dengue, Chikengunya etc. and packing of hot food items with plastics in eateries causing health hazards.

The general public, members of people federations promoted by DHAN, school and college students were the targeted persons for creating awareness about plastic usage.   Before conducting the street play and dances in the targeted village/town, interacting with local people to know their extent of plastic use and awareness was done. Awareness posters (50-100 numbers) to avoid plastic were pasted  in the villages/towns covered. Advertisement through stencils, announcement to the people through loud speakers and getting the feedback of the people after the street play are the other activities done. Through this extensive campaign nearly one lakh people were covered in seven schools and ninety one villages.

References

  • Plastic materials in India. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastics_materials_in_India
  • What you can do about plastic pollution. www.greensangha.org
  • Department of Environment and Forest, Tamilnadu, Policy Note 2012-13,Demand No: 15 By B.V.Ramanna, Minister for Environment.

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