When Leo Hendrik, a Belgian born American invented plastic in the year 1907, little did he know that humans would exceed its usage limit and bring forth chaos in nature. The world as we know it is a complete contrast of the 1900s and it requires a lot of efforts to bring it back to its former glory.
Plastic was initially not a much sought after material, because it couldn’t maintain its shape or stay stable at high temperatures. But, when Charles Goodyear unexpectedly discovered the process of vulcanization, it opened up an array of discoveries. This is where the workability of plastic was found. Post this, the material became pervasive in medical as well as technological fields. It was used in the manufacture of computers, prosthetics, automobiles etc. Though the rising consumption was an advantage, the bigger picture of disposing off anything made of plastic became a disadvantage.
Ascent to Universality
Plastic was a material that started finding a lot of uses. From the tiniest of items such as a spoon to a massive Boeing Dreamliner aircraft – all of it majorly consists of this easy to make substance. The material can be found in packaging with regard to food as this helps in keeping it fresh, thus reducing wastage. That aside, plastic also keeps food clean and safe from contamination. This has also made the lives of humans easier as it lasts longer and if it isn’t required it can just be disposed of. It is also a major component in the transport industry with most vehicles consisting upto 50 % of plastic like the steering wheels, windshield wipers and also the protective features like the airbags and seatbelts. Majority of the electronics such as the television, radios, microwaves, hair dryers etc are plastic products. The medical field uses plastic as a life saver. Hearing aid, prosthetics, syringes, X ray machines, medicine bags etc. are just a few of them. When an element like this, is easy to produce and use, it’s bound to be excessively used.
Easy Access, Easy Riddance
Upon knowing the extent to which plastic is used, we can perceive how easy it is to create it as well. Bakelite was one of the first synthetic plastics to come into large scale use. Originally created as a natural insulator, it could be forged into any shape. Soon enough a trail of newer forms followed such as nylon, polyester, plexiglass etc. All these new material were put into full production mode for various other products. During World War 2, the use of plastic rose immensely and this led to worldwide consumption of the same. It slowly turned into the most convenient material to have in any form. Apart from its availability, the easy to dispose part also worked well with people.
Plastic is one such element that can be used and thrown without a fuss. For instance, a pack of noodles remains in its cover until the contents are removed. The wrapper easily goes into the bin. In this way, there are around seven billion people doing the same, which doesn’t seem like best thing.
Let’s Talk Numbers
India was initially a country that depended upon eco-friendly ways of packaging as well as consuming food in bio-degradable materials such as the banana leaf. But, over the years technological advancements as well as awareness have given rise to the usage of plastic in the country. The concept of how plastic is more durable and economical compared to the other products. It can be observed from a recent survey that in the year 1996 the amount of plastic used was calculated to be 61,000 tonnes. Though it may seem like a lot, the difference 11 years later is alarming where the consumption is calculated to be 8,500,000 tonnes.
1996 onwards the country was starting to develop and adapt to all the changes in the food, travel, technology industry etc. Indians were now slowly getting used to the concept of microwaves, food processors, printers, laptops etc. And by 2007, the number of plastic products in a household increased. For lunch purposes, steel boxes were replaced with plastic ones, stone grinders were replaced with processors and so it went. This tremendous rise also meant that the country would now go overboard with plastic.
And to add to the statement, it’s said that an average Indian uses approximately 25 pounds of plastic every year. This includes 27% plastic bottle. This is leading to a large scale imbalance where the plastic consumed has nowhere to go and most of it is dumped in the sea. And as far as predictions go, researchers say that in a span of 30-40 years there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean
Ways to Solve the Impasse
The element causing imbalance in the environment, plastic, has a decomposition timeline of about 500 years, depending on the kind of product. A normal plastic bag takes close to 200 years to disintegrate. So to see, the amount of plastic present on the earth today will take thousands of years. But, with advancing technology, the best solution that is available today is recycling. Plastic as said earlier can be turned into any shape and size. Presently the only kinds of plastics that can be recycled are PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate), HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) and PVC (Plasticised Polyvinyl Chloride). The various recycling units across the country gather plastic segregated by rag pickers and upon recycling turns it into a different object within a month. Various startups have also been taking the initiating the need for recycling.
A lot of states in the country have taken to banning plastic entirely to curb its usage and encourage the use of cloth or jute bags. Though the ban will indeed not add on to the existing crisis, a more efficient mode of recycling is yet to be developed.
The people of the country need to do their own bit and voluntarily reduce how much plastic they use. Where plastic plates are used in weddings, social occasions etc. plates made of banana leaves or coconut leaves can be an option. These were already in use since the age old times. Copper bottles can be used instead of normal water bottles, apart from its added health benefits; it’s an element that can easily be broken down into a new product. As far as storage is concerned, instead of food being stored in plastic containers, it can be replaced with glass jars or glass mugs which will help in making sure that plastic is limited indoors.
These minuscule steps if taken by each and every individual can make a huge difference in the way the world changes. The environment can breathe a sigh of relief and so can human beings.