With the garbage menace threatening to explode, the recent announcement by the Karnataka government to ban the usage of plastics is a major step in the right direction. Though use of plastic in domestic utility items and industrial applications have turned out to be a boon, their overuse for packaging purposes has become a curse for citizens. Sure, they are convenient, but is that an excuse to impair the surroundings and the life it supports? Plastic bags hang from the pantry door, line bathroom trash bins, clutter landfills, flap from trees, float in the breeze, clog road side drains, drift on the high seas and even fill sea turtle bellies. Every time a city inundates in deluge, the primary reason being the drains getting choked with plastic.
Earlier hailed as a “wonder material”, plastic is now a serious worldwide environmental and health concern, essentially due to its non-biodegradable nature. Once natural resources are converted into these disastrous bags, they take hundreds of years to disintegrate, before ending up in lakes, rivers and oceans, polluting the surroundings and killing birds, fish and other marine animals. Besides causing harm to soil fertility, they block absorption of water in the soil. Land animals are not immune and they eat plastic with equally devastating results. The brigade that clamour for the cow-slaughter ban should note that the plastic bags are the staple food of the abandoned cows that live on the assorted waste at the dumping yards and bins. Also, when hot food is packed in wafer-thin plastic paper, chemical exchange causes grievous health issues.
Plastic litter has become such an environmental eyesore that many countries taxed the toxic stuff or banned their use outright. According to UN Environment Programme, scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains “about 46,000 plastic pieces”. Roughly 8m tons of plastic is reportedly dumped in the oceans. Bulk of this waste comes from China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and India. These emerging nations are experiencing rapid economic growth and improved lifestyle, so does the consumer use of plastic and plastic-intensive goods. The caveat of this increased demand is that they do not have waste-management infrastructure that can tackle the accompanying excess waste.
Though disposable syringes/needles, for instance, meant an end to the threat of cross contamination, a prolonged affair with plastic is not such a healthy relationship, and making some hard choices is imminent.
Preventing environmental degradation should take precedence over plastic industry. The pollution caused by their creation alone is enough to warrant a taboo on their manufacture and use. Their workforce can alternatively help make more eco-friendly materials. While blanket ban may not be the best solution under weak institutional enforcement, a combination of standards and right incentives can reduce the use of plastic bags.
Plastic ban as a solution does not mean shifting to paper bag, as both have significant environmental consequences. For one thing, we’ve produced more plastic in the last decade than the entire previous century. When we grapple with the plastic bag, we’re grappling with our whole “throwaway” culture – and the environmental problems that culture of convenience has created. Talking about plastics is really a conversation about what kind of legacy we want to leave the generations that succeed us.
While Education department should mandatorily incorporate environment as part of academic syllabus, alternative technologies shall be studied and eco-friendly material shall be made available to make the ban feasible. So, when you step out, carry, along with your mobile and wallet, a reusable bag, too. You probably won’t change the world, but you can significantly alter your little corner of it.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)