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The Perils of Plastic

Even biodegradable plastics have a disadvantage. They are not easily degraded and in the process of decomposition, there occurs an emission of methane, which contributes to the global warming; another environmental crisis.

Every year, 3rd July is observed as plastic bag free day worldwide. It is a part of ‘free from plastic’ movement ,which has been launched to build a future, free from pollution because plastic poses a serious threat to our planet. Our beautiful planet Earth is slowly losing its sheen, for its oceans have become dump-sites of plastic and other similar materials. Not only oceans, the land of our planet also faces the same problem. Each year globally, more than 35 million tones of plastic pollutants are produced and about a quarter of those end up in water.

We dispose plastic material away from our homes and think we’re are safe, but we tend to forget that the plastic material around us in our environment is creating havoc. Also, we never give much thought to the fact that the land and water are home to several species, which may be suffering from our insensible approach. Yes, scientists have found that around one lakh marine creatures die because of this menace. Many of these creatures get entangled in plastic products and end up drowning or suffocating. They sometimes fail to untangle themselves, and thus die from starvation or from their inability to evade predators.

Some aquatic creatures mistake plastic products as their prey, consume plastic and get adversely affected. Not only animals, even aquatic aves have been found to suffer from plastic pollution. Studies show that seagulls in the North Sea had on average thirty pieces of plastic in their stomach. These birds also mistake trash floating on the ocean’s surface as food and ingest it. As a result, the bird’s gut is either physically damaged or obstructed leading to digestive inability, malnutrition, starvation, and ultimately death. It’s negative impact is seen indirectly on humans as well. In oceans, plastics degrade gradually but not entirely. In this process, a number of chemicals such as, bis-phenol and polystyrene are released, which find a way into marine life and finally to humans.

Being toxic these substances interfere with normal workings of the human body. Plastic pollution has a strong, adverse effect on humans. The chemical additives used during plastic production make plastic potentially harmful. Sometimes, it may prove to be carcinogenic or promote endocrine disruption. Besides affecting gene expression related to thyroid hormones, biphenols disrupt the normal physiological level of sex hormones- androgens and estrogens – responsible for masculinity and femininity in humans respectively.Plastic pollution affects the land fertility as well. Since most of the plastic products are non-biodegradable in nature, they accumulate in the soil, reducing its fertility and hinder the growth of plants.

Even biodegradable plastics have a disadvantage. They are not easily degraded and in the process of decomposition, there occurs an emission of methane, which contributes to the global warming; another environmental crisis. Moreover, chemicals from plastic materials permeate into the surrounding soil, which then seeps into groundwater and other surrounding water sources, thus causing harm to species that use the water.There are many other hazards of plastic pollution, which act as a threat to all life on earth. It is the unembellished and the unaltered truth that humans are solely responsible for it. Being an advanced species, we have vital role in the conservation of the environment. We have the ability to control the condition of our environment. We can protect not only ourselves but also other creatures.

We need to end the insensitive and cruel disregard of the environment, of each other, and of other living beings. The need of the hour is to be concerned about our environment and ecosystem. This need is exemplified by the words of the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, who once said, “we won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.” We exist because of the environment around us, and are dependent on it. Thus, we have to take personal responsibility and do our bit sincerely. There are many ways to reduce plastic pollution –

Refraining from use of disposable packaging:- Unfortunately, we consume billions of bottles, coffee cups, street food wrapping as well as disposable plates and cutlery, which accounts for half of the litter. These disposable items are generally used for a few minutes, but they remain in the environment for centuries. Thus, we need to find better methods of waste disposal.

Increase the circulation of reusable bags:- Millions of single-use plastic bags are used every minute globally, and a single plastic bag takes a thousand years to degrade. Therefore, it is important to replace them with reusable bags. Some countries have banned the use of plastic bags. If our state has no such plan, we at our own level can set a precedent by encouraging the circulation of reusable bags.

Avoid the use of plastic bottles:– Cutting down on plastic bottles is another method to tackle the scourge of plastic pollution. Nowadays, most of edibles are packed in plastic bottles. These bottles end up in landfills, being incinerated, or are making their way into our oceans, adding to this problem. If plastic pollution has to be controlled, there is no option to use reusable bottles instead of disposable ones.

Participate in a river cleanup:- Besides awareness campaigns, some people never change and continue to be merciless to our rivers. As a result, we found mounds of waste on the banks of streams and rivers. Some rivers have turned into swamps. It is the responsibility of every individual to pitch in and help fix our rivers by participating in river cleanup activities.

Government policy:– The support of the government is imperative for any program to function. Additionally, plastic pollution is a serious environmental issue, which requires the attention of government officials. Though Government has devised many policies from time to time but due to loopholes these policies failed to bring about any change. Government should not favor dealers, manufacturers at the cost of environment. Government officials should provide them with alternatives, rather than allowing this problem to rise perpetually. Moreover, the public needs to support the ban and must present it as a crucial first step towards a pollution free environment.

Zeeshan Rasool Khan, student , tutor , & columnist writing on current socio-political issues. He tweets @zeeshan_rk and can be mailed at mohdzeeshan605@gmail.com

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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