According to a report by Central Pollution Control Board of India, for the year 2018-2019, 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic waste are generated by Indians.
There has been an exponential surge in the usage of single use plastics. According to a report by Central Pollution Control Board of India, for the year 2018-2019, 3.3 million metric tonnes of plastic waste are generated in India. Some experts point out the fact that this figure might as well be a gross under-estimation as well.
GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Conservation of Environment and Ecology), GS-III: Science and Technology
Dimensions of the Article:
- About Single use plastic
- Challenges with banning single use plastic
- Measures taken so far in India
- About the IISc’s biodegradable substitute for single-use plastic
- What are the benefits of the IISc’s efforts?
About Single use plastic
- Single-use plastics, often also referred to as disposable plastics, are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. These include, among other items, grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, stirrers, styrofoam cups or plates etc.
Impacts of Single Use Plastic (SUP)
- Environmental pollution: A staggering total of it remains uncollected causing choking of drainage and river systems, littering of the marine ecosystem, soil and water pollution, ingestion by stray animals, and open air burning leading to adverse impact on environment.
- Disposal issue: They do not biodegrade instead they slowly break down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics which again causes more issues. It can take up to thousands of years for plastic bags and Styrofoam containers to decompose.
- Human health: The toxins, poisons and persistent pollutants present in some of these plastic products leach and enter human bodies where they cause several diseases, including cancer and can damage nervous systems, lungs and reproductive organs. Humans may be consuming anywhere from 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles a year through fish (contaminated with microplastics) alone.
- Marine life & climate change: Plastic waste is at epidemic proportions in the world’s oceans with an estimated 100 million tonnes dumped there to date. o Plastic kills an estimated 1 million sea birds every year and affects around 700 species which get infected by ingesting plastics. Single-use plastics make up on average 49% of beach litter.
- Increasing Carbon dioxide: If the production, disposal and incineration of plastic continues on its present-day growth trajectory, by 2030 these global emissions could reach 1.34 gigatonne per year — equivalent to more than 295 coal-based power plants of 500-MW capacity.
- More impact on developing countries: The ubiquitous plastic seems to be a curse for the third world countries, because poor countries, especially in Asia, not only have their own plastic dump to deal with but also the plastic trash that lands on their shores from developed countries.
Challenges with banning single use plastic
- No immediate alternatives: It is difficult to ban the product which is of immense use to the public, without thinking of a sustainable and equally utilitarian alternative product.
- For e.g. Single-use plastic helps keep medical equipment sterile and safe to use.
- There is no alternative to plastic yet and sectors like pharmaceuticals, hardware, toys, food processing, food delivery will be in total chaos.
- While there is increased awareness in urban area, the challenge will be to find a suitable cost effective alternatives in tier II and tier III towns and remote locations.
- Impact on packaging industry: It impacts most industries since SUP forms part of packaging and hence is linked to all industries directly or indirectly.
- If plastic sachets made from multi-layered packaging are banned, it can disrupt supplies of key products such as biscuits, salt and milk etc which has made life easier for the poor in terms of affordable small packs and convenience.
- Ban will increase the price of most FMCG products as manufacturers would try and shift to alternative packaging (which can be costlier).
- Loss of jobs and revenue: Ban can lead to loss of revenue as well as job loss in the plastic manufacturing industry.
- India’s plastic industry officially employs around 4 million people across 30,000 processing units, out of which 90% are small to medium-sized businesses.
- Plastics also support thousands employed informally such as ragpickers as well as street food and market vendors who are reliant on single-use plastic.
- Attitudinal change: It is difficult as no one takes the responsibility for the single use plastic thrown by them and behaviour change towards the shift from non-using of single use plastic is difficult.
Measures taken so far in India
- Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 state that every local body has to be responsible for setting up infrastructure for segregation, collection, processing, and disposal of plastic waste.
- Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules 2018 introduced the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
- Ban on Single-Use Plastics in a bid to free India of single-use plastics by 2022.
- World Environment Day, 2018 hosted in India, the world leaders vowed to “Beat Plastic Pollution” & eliminate its use completely.
About the IISc’s biodegradable substitute for single-use plastic
- The researchers have developed a polymer using non-edible oil and cellulose extracted from agricultural stubble. The process makes use of non-edible Castor oil. However other non-edible oils such as jatropha oil and neem oil could also be experimented with.
- The proportion of cellulose to non-edible oil can be varied to tune the flexibility of the polymer. Higher amount of cellulose makes the polymer stiffer while higher proportion of oil made the material more flexible
- The sheets of polymer have performed satisfactorily in the leaching and thermal stability tests.
What are the benefits of the IISc’s efforts?
- The newly developed material is biodegradable and non-toxic and hence would be a viable substitute for single-use plastic that can help mitigate the problem of accumulating plastic waste in the environment.
- The material’s flexibility is tuneable and hence it makes it viable for multi-purpose users.
- The material is also water-proof and hence it could also be used for food packaging and healthcare applications.
- Given that the process makes use of agricultural stubble as a raw material ensures that the agricultural stubble are not burnt which in turn helps in avoiding air pollution in several States.
-Source: The Hindu