Plastics: A Hazard


World Environment Day was celebrated on the 5th of June with great pomp, and had people from all walks of life responding to initiatives undertaken by Non Governmental organizations (NGO’s) and reputed companies. The question that comes to my mind is- do we really need a specific day to remind us of the harm caused by environment degradation? Is it not important for us to indulge in regular care for the environment? Celebrating one day is not the solution to all our environmental woes. We have to start contributing to conservation in our own small way, and one of the ways to do so is to reduce the usage of plastic products.

Plastics can be derived from plant, animal and insect remains, but, are mostly man-made. These are known as Synthetic Plastics. Synthetic plastics are usually made from crude oil, but, coal and natural gas are also used. These plastics do not decompose easily and, hence, lead to death by choking of cattle and other herbivores, when carelessly thrown in green pastures. Burning of plastic bags and items leads to the creation of noxious fumes, such as carbon monoxide. The increase in the effusion of this gas has led to an upsurge in the people suffering from various respiratory ailments such as asthma and bronchitis. The noxious fumes have also had a detrimental effect on the ozone layer, which prevents the harmful rays of the sun from entering the atmosphere. The thinning of this layer has increased incidences of skin cancer and has, therefore, been a vital cause of the problem known as ‘global warming’.

There have been remedial measures taken by both the state Governments and the Centre with regard to reducing consumption of thinner plastics, which are more harmful. Chinese plastic toy exports have been rejected by many countries, including India, for the serious health hazard they posed. Many states like Maharashtra and Delhi have banned the use of plastic bags. But, the implementation of these measures has not had the desired effect. It is only the supermarkets and departmental stores which have complied with the Government order. Smaller ‘baniya’ shop owners still use cheap plastic to sell their wares, as it is a cost effective option. Little do they realize the harm that they are causing to the environment and the repercussions of doing so.

There are many alternatives to plastics, such as the use of jute bags which can also be reused. There is a need to increase awareness among the smaller producers about the hazards related to use of thin plastics. Also, the plastic recycling industry in our country has been neglected. Proper segregation and processing of used plastics will prevent the dumping of plastic in the soil, where it does not decompose. This will not only save our animals, but will also help in creating employment opportunities and is a cost effective option for consumers as well. Incentives can be given to housing societies who propagate the use of eco friendly alternatives. If plastic bags have to be used, they should be made with a fair amount of paper to reduce the risk factor.

Reducing consumption of harmful plastics is, thus, a small, but, effective way to maintain the ecological balance. It is a small initiative which will go a long way in making our world a better and greener place to live in, if increasing awareness leads to enthusiastic participation in large numbers.

Shreya Bhattacharya

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