“For the last Christmas, we used four large bottles to make the pillars of the Christmas crib and smaller ones for the Joseph, Mary and the three kings. i got this idea from an article i read on how a group of people in Guatemala had built a school house by using 6000 plastic bottles filled in this way.” AURIEL RIBEIRO SA takes this opportunity to enlighten people about the perils of plastic; because we continue using plastic, despite being an educated society…
Plastics are extensively used because they are easy and cheap to make and they can last a long time. Modernisation has added to the plastic pollution in concentrated forms in cities. In India, 20% of solid municipal wastes are plastic. According to an estimate, more than 100 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year all over the world. The Problem: Being composed of toxic chemicals and most importantly a non- biodegradable substance, plastic pollutes the earth and leads to air pollution and water pollution. The noxious substances emitted during the production of plastic are synthetic chemicals like ethylene oxide, benzene and xylenes. Besides damaging the ecosystem, which is already fragile, these chemicals can also cause an array of maladies ranging from birth defects to cancer, damage the nervous system and the immune system and also adversely affect the blood and the kidneys.
Plastic does not decompose, and requires high energy ultra- violet light to break down. Plastic thrown on land can enter into drainage lines and choke them resulting in floods in local areas in cities as experienced in Mumbai, India in 1998. Choked drains provide excellent breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Eating plastic bags results in the death of 100 cattle per day in UP in India. More than 90% of the waste materials found on beaches contain plastic. The plastic rubbish found on beaches near urban areas tends to originate from packaging material used to wrap around other goods. On remote beaches, the rubbish comes from ships, such as fishing equipment used in the fishing industry. Aquatic animals mistake floating transparent plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them.
A chemical found in plastics used in water bottles, food cans and even dental fillings could pose a serious threat to the user’s health, claim researchers. Research on lab animals has linked the chemical to prostate enlargement, declined testosterone, pre- cancerous breast cells, prostate cancer, changes to the genital tract, early puberty in females and hyperactivity.
Like in the case of all other chemical substances, ‘disposal’ of plastic is a myth. Once plastic is produced, it defies any kind of attempt at disposal, be it through recycling, burning or land- filling. Recycling of a plastic merely puts it back into the market place and eventually into the environment, thereby making no reduction in its use. When plastic is burned, it releases a host of poisonous chemicals including dioxin into the air. Apart from toxic seepage from the landfill resulting in the contamination of precious water sources, the waste mass impedes the flow of ground water. Landfills are also prone to leaks.
So do we have concrete solutions?
The only way to overcome the deadly and lasting danger of plastic pollution is to CUT DOWN THE USE OF PLASTIC, and if possible, avoid it altogether. Say NO to plastic whenever and wherever you can. And if you can’t say NO altogether then find ways to reuse plastic several times before they are discarded. Water and soft drink bottles, sold with the intention of single use, can be safely reused to store drinking water if cleaned and handled properly. Use plastic bags to keep dust off shoes or seasonal articles.
When packing a suitcase, use them to keep shoes from soiling clothes and to separate soiled/ wet clothes from clean ones. For those with infrequent trash pickups, use them to package any strong- smelling kitchen waste. Ask stores if they will take the clean bags back. Encourage your local retailer to do the same. Clean plastic food containers make great toys for your children. They could be used as great lunch containers in kids’ school lunches. They can be modified to make pots for starting seedlings or making birdhouses. Bigger containers work well to hold food scraps or as dustbins. Remember:
Say NO to a plastic carry bag when you can carry things in your hand or in a cloth bag instead. Keep a set of bags always ready in your bike/ car when you go shopping.
Avoid packing goods in many plastic bags when you can carry them in a single one. Recycle a carry bag at least 10 times before you throw it out. In our home, we practice what we preach by reusing every single plastic bag that comes into our house. This I learnt from my mother and I teach it to my children. We give clean plastic bags to a local shopkeeper for reuse. If we find that there is no use for bits of plastic from biscuit packets, tops of sealed bags, etc, these are collected and filled tightly into PET bottles so that they do not litter the place.
For the last Christmas, we used four large bottles to make the pillars of the Christmas crib and smaller ones for the Joseph, Mary and the three kings. I got this idea from an article I read on how a group of people in Guatemala had built a school house by using 6000 plastic bottles filled in this way. I take every opportunity to educate my friends and my children’s friends when we meet them for a party on how to avoid plastic pollution by saying NO to plastic. We do not buy single- use plastic glasses or paper plates for kids’ parties but have invested in durable ones which are used time and again.
If you are an eco- friendly person, the net offers infinite ways to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic. So, do educate yourself and discover amazing ways to help reduce plastic pollution in your community, city, country and the world. But always remember that charity begins at home and that is where you should start first.
THIS CAME IN THE ENVIRONMENT SECTION OF HERALD ON 15 JAN 2012, PG 26.