Adverse impact of rampant use of plastic

Dr Mudra Ingawale
Have we ever thought about the amount of plastic we use in our day to day lives and its adverse effects on the environment that include us “human beings”? It’s high time that we paused for a moment, look around us and act upon because it’s the need of the hour. Plastic, it’s easy to find, difficult to avoid, makes things attractive, but at the end, isn’t of any good.
Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Unlike other forms of wastes like paper, food, peels, leaves etc. which are biodegradable in nature, plastic waste because of its non biodegradable nature persists into the environment , for hundreds (or even thousands) of years.
Plastic pollution is caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment. Studies reveal India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste annually and 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste every day of which 40% remains uncollected and 43% is used for packaging.
Major types of plastic waste
Micro-plastics are small plastic pieces of less than five millimetres in size. Eg : microbeads (solid plastic particles of less than one millimetre in their largest dimension) used in cosmetics and personal care products, industrial scrubbers, microfibers used in textiles and vergin resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing processes.
Single-use plastic is a disposable material that can be used only once before it is either thrown away or recycled.
Further based on chemical composition they are classified into Polyethlene terephthalate (PET) plastic water bottles, soda bottles, plastic plates, most food packaging. High density polyethylene (HDPE) eg: Shampoo bottles, freezer bags, ice cream containers. Low density polyethylene (LDPE) eg:Bags, trays, food packaging film. Polypropylene (PP) eg: potato chips bags, microwave dishes, bottle caps, Polystyrene (PS) eg: cutlery, cups, plates.
Impact of Plastic Waste
Economic losses- Plastic waste along the shoreline has a negative impact on tourism revenue.
Implications for animals- Plastic wastes have profoundly affected animals in aquatic, marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Plastic ingestion by animals resulting in their death. Marine animals get trapped in plastic waste where they are exposed to predators or starve to death.
Implications for human health
 The chemicals leached from the plastics contain compounds like diphenyl ether (anti androgen) Bisphenol A (mimics natural female hormone estrogen) impact human health leading to various hormonal and genetic disorders. These interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system, thyroid hormones and can be harmful to women of reproductive age and young children.
Air Pollution: Burning of plastic releases poisonous chemicals into the atmosphere impacting general well being and causing respiratory disorders.
Groundwater Pollution: Plastics when dumped in landfills, the hazardous chemicals present in them seep underground when it rains. The leaching chemicals and toxic elements infiltrate into the aquifers and water table, indirectly affecting ground water quality.
Water Pollution :Many water bodies have reported alarming cases of plastic debris floating on water surfaces affecting a great number of aquatic creatures.
Interference with food chain: Chemicals in plastic affect the biological and reproduction process resulting in reduced numbers of offspring’s thus disrupting the food chain. When smaller animals (planktons, worms, fishes, insects and amphibians) are intoxicated by ingesting plastic they are passed on to larger animals disrupting the interrelated connections with the food chain.
The way out
Plastic Waste Management - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Reduce-First step in reducing plastic waste is to minimize single use plastics by supporting a tax on plastic bags, restraint on manufacturing of plastics and using alternatives of plastic or biodegradable plastic.
Reuse- Reusing plastics can reduce the demand for new plastics; hence it can act as the natural restrain on plastic manufacturing.
Recycle- Plastic recycling is the process of recovering waste or scrap plastic and reprocessing into useful products. In our day to day life we could take measures such as using reusable cloth shopping bags, use of paper, steel or bamboo straws, reusable containers and mugs, buy unpackaged food.
Expanding the use of biodegradable plastics or even edible plastics from various materials. Lobby for plastic management, strategies and recycling regulations, ‘If you can’t reuse it. Refuse it’.
Other measures such as raising awareness amongst the society of the harm caused by plastic pollution through education and outreach programs to modify behaviour. Promote alternatives, before the ban comes into force, the availability of alternatives needs to be assessed, hence the local governing authority could provide economic incentives to encourage the uptake of eco-friendly alternatives that do not cause more harm.
Monitor and adjust the plastic waste management measures if necessary and update the public on progress. Any small step at an individual level, group level or Government level would prove beneficial for greener and cleaner tomorrow.
On that note I would like to share a thoughtful poem-
“It would be fantastic, if we stopped using plastic, and eased the world’s pain with a healthy food chain.
“Turtles would no longer gag, on a supermarkets bag. Sea birds could have a meal of food that was real.
“Less chemicals in the sea would be healthier for you and me.
“If we protest en mass, perhaps they will use more glass, shops reuse paper wrapping they will have us all clapping.
“We can choose from today, things wrapped the right way. When we see a container, using it again is saner. Take care what you throw away, most will be here to stay.”- Anonymous.
“The earth is our home and we’ve got to protect its beauty and all the resources it provides us with every single day. We are tenants here and we’ll go someday, so let’s be good tenants and leave it as clean and green as possible.
“Imagine if the earth were to rate your stay after you left, how much rating would it give you?”

(The writer is a Radiologist based at Imphal)