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21st Century’s Dependence on Plastic – A Growing Menace

As a daily commuter in Pune, I regularly use bridges over the water bodies in Pune, mostly the rivers. And what do I see on the banks of these rivers during the summer months? Plastic bags, plastic wrappers and other non-biodegradable solid waste hanging on to the fences. Similarly, overflowing garbage bins are a regular sight not only in Pune but also in major metropolitan cities with stray animals like dogs and cows feeding on the waste plastic.

Image Source - http://www.dnaindia.com/pune/slideshow-journey-of-the-mutha-river-1706191

Lets take a closer look at an industrialized city like Pune. Total solid waste generated daily, amounts to 1500 to 1600 tonnes per day (TPD), out of which, 215 to 235 TPD, that is 15 to 17 percent, is plastic waste. However only 20 to 25 percent of this waste is recycled. The rest ends up in landfills and local water bodies and through them into the earth’s oceans. India makes a huge contribution to plastic waste entering the oceans as it is ranks 12th in the Top 20 countries infamous for dumping plastic waste into the seas from their respective coastlines. This plastic waste, legally or illegally dumped by countries into our oceans, then photodegrades into smaller particles, called microplastic particles, that fish and other marine life ingest thinking it is food. There are approximately 51 trillion of these microplastic particles in the ocean, 500 times more than the stars in our galaxy. These microplastic particles gravely compromise the life and survival of marine life and since these particles degrade extremely slowly, they move up the food chain and end up in the food we eat. The UN recently released a report which said that if our current trends of plastic usage continue, by 2050, the earth’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish, by weight. How disastrous is that? We will not only lose precious marine biodiversity but also economies depending on fisheries and tourism will suffer severe economic losses too. And not only marine animals, but domestic animals like cattle are also suffering. Cows, buffalos and other stray animals try to eat the food waste lining plastic bags littered on the road and ingest those bags. Eventually, this plastic builds up in their stomachs and causes a decrease in the milk quality and sometimes even death.

Global plastic usage has increased by 620% since the 1975. Single-use plastic bags and small plastic packaging is having adverse effects for the health of our ecosystems, including human health. Every year, around the world we use 17 million barrels of oil to produce plastic water bottles. In that much oil, we could fuel 1 million cars every year. Virtually, all the plastic that was ever produced still exists on our planet in some way, shape or form.  Considering these factors, is it still feasible for us to continue using and discarding plastic in the way we have been doing so for the past several years? We need to understand the serious implications of plastic dependence and devise new and sustainable solutions to keep our planet clean and our future generations healthy.

Author – Sai Powar

Edited by – Zitin Munshi

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