This monster of plastic will gobble up the future!
By Vijay Darda
American chemist Leo Hendrik Backland never imagined that the synthetic plastic he invented would prove to be so dangerous to the world! In 1907, plastic was invented and gradually it became popular. The plastic then further refined and manifested in second form which we know as polyethylene. Actually, this second discovery was by accident. While conducting an experiment at Norwich city of Britain, some chemists made a mistake and the experiment went awry. Interestingly, out of the wrong experiment emerged a smooth white coloured substance. It was polythene. Its commercial production began in 1938.
Fifty years ago, it started becoming popular in the world and later took it by storm. Being cheaper, protecting the goods from water and being suitable for packaging led to its popularity and wider use. But in a few decades, it transpired that it produced more harm than benefits. Earlier, we would use bags made of clothes and paper, which were adapted to nature and environment-friendly. They could be destroyed in a short time i.e. they got decomposed fast. It is not known about plastic yet how much time it takes to get it decomposed. Some scientists say 500 years and may even longer! The plastic produced in 1907 and the polythene produced in 1933 is yet to get decomposed. Just imagine what may lie in store for future?
Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice S.J. Mukhopadhyaya of the Supreme Court had observed that if the plastic is not fully banned then it will prove to be more dangerous than the Atom bomb for our next generation. Their observations have come true. Drainage systems of our cities have been choked with plastic. According to a report in 2017, about 90 per cent of the plastic in the world’s ten major rivers is in three rivers of India – Ganga, Sindhu and Brahmaputra. Plastic waste has completely destroyed the rivers originating from or near the cities.
You would be surprised to know that in case of plastic consumption, India is far behind other developed countries of the world. The consumption of plastic in India is 10 kg 880 grams per person, whereas in the US this consumption is 108 kg 860 grams. The problem is that we are unable to re-use the plastic properly. According to the Central Pollution Control Board, 16,500 tonnes of garbage is generated in India every day. Out of this, only 9900 tons of garbage is collected and recycled. The remaining 6,600 tons of garbage chokes up the river basins or gets buried to ruin the land or flows into the sea, through rivers. You will be shocked to know that almost 10 lakh sea birds and 100,000 of marine life die every year due to plastic.
So the question is how to get rid of this monster named plastic? On paper, 25 States/Union Territories of the country have banned use and production of plastic. Some places have full restrictions, some partial. Polythene thickness has been standardised. The government is taking action also and so far various states have imposed penalties, but the problem remains unresolved. Large states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, UP and MP have imposed complete ban officially but everywhere you will get plastic items and polythene bags in these states. Actually there is no seriousness in implementing the ban. There is a plastic ban in Karnataka but you will easily see the political banners crafted of plastic. Admirably, hill states have definitely achieved their targets. There people have voluntarily banned polythene bags.
When Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced the ban on plastic in Maharashtra in March this year, hopes of a better future were kindled. The ban came into force on June 23. After four months of assessment, it seems that success has not been fully realised. Even in big cities, merchandise is being packed and sold in polythene. Actually the problem is of public awareness. Officers must show strictness and people will have to understand that the ban on plastic is for their good and their future generations. People have to start using paper and re-use paper bags. Just need to get them used to it once. Many people have even got used to it. Our Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan has assured that till 2022 India will be free from single-use plastic. Hope this dream will be fulfilled!
Vijay Darda has been the chief visionary and driving force behind Lokmat, a leading multi-platform media company. He is a recipient of several prestigious awards including the Feroze Gandhi Memorial Award for excellence in journalism in 1990-91.
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