Plastics – Destroying Our Pretty Blue Planet

plastic pollution

An anonymous ‘they’ are accused of damaging our pretty blue planet, but we know for certain it is not ‘they’. It is ‘Us’. ‘We’. It’s we who are ravaging and plundering our Earth.

     ‘We’ are like a virus pandemic that devastates the environment, it is overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels and by deforestation that have caused climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.

     World Earth Day 2024: on this year’s Earth Day, April 22, 2024. EARTHDAY.ORG has announced the theme: ‘Planet vs. Plastics’.

     Before coming to the issue of plastic pollution, we will mention that – Deforestation, air pollution, global warming, water pollution, natural resource depletion are immensely demanding problems of our still beautiful looking planet from space. Earth.

Getting to the bottom of Plastics

     It’s not a secret, all plastics are derivatives of oil/fossil fuels, which itself Is a non-renewable resource.

     Oil is formed as a result of heat and pressure on the remains of tiny sea plants and animals which lived, died and sank to the ocean floor millions of years ago and were buried deep under layers of sand and silt. Heat and pressure over millions of years turned these fossils into what we today call crude oil and gas. That’s why oil and gas are called fossil fuels. The oil that is extracted by drilling deep into the earth is called crude because once it is extracted it has to be refined into petroleum products to be useful.

More dependent on oil than we can imagine  

     Ever since we discovered how to extract and refine oil and make so many products from petroleum, we are more dependent on oil than we can imagine, we have been exploiting the oil wells at a higher rate every single year – and even though we have regularly discovered more and more oil fields and dug more and more oil wells and extracted more and more oil, our rate of demand is managing to outpace the oil produced.

     The rate of oil ‘production’, meaning extraction and refining has grown almost every year of the last century. Our usage of petroleum products is so great that we could say that we are dependent on crude and petroleum products to a point when we cannot get out of it.

The Surprising Uses of Petroleum Products 

    Petrol for vehicles and for other major land and air transportation is not the only use of oil. Crude is refined into many petroleum products. Petrol for our vehicles is only one of them. There are several others – LPG, Naptha, kerosene, gas oil and fuel oil which have widespread industrial uses.

There are several petroleum products which are not fuels

     Lubricants and Tar/Asphalt for paving roads. Fertilisers and Pesticides in agriculture. Detergents and chemical fertilisers. Petro-chemicals are a

basis for perfumes etc. Other petroleum products such as Naptha, LPG and Ethane used in the production of petrochemicals such as Ethylene, Propylene, Butadiene, Benzene, Ammonia and Methanol – are the main ingredients in the manufacture of all plastic products

     Plastics are used in a wide variety of products, and have displaced other materials – such as wood, metal, and glass.,

     Clothing And Textiles – Synthetic fibres which we wear and Synthetic rubbers. It’s not just the blended polycloth it is also zippers, buttons, shoe-soles, pillow fillings etc. umbrellas etc.  (Using cotton in many cases would save a lot of cotton farmers)

     Offices – CD’s, pens and ball pens, computers, telephones and so many office equipment including erasers which are now made of petroleum based synthetic material.

     Play and Leisure – Board games, footballs, basketballs and for various games, playing cards, sleeping bags, tennis racquet strings, plastic flower pots, photo albums, cameras etc. all sorts of toys for children, dolls, rattles, pacifiers, feeding bottles etc.

     Medical Equipment – packaging of medicines, spectacles, oxygen masks, syringes, dentures, medical adhesives etc. etc.

     Cosmetics Industry – packaging and alcohol used in the industry

     In our homes – Switches, drainage pipes, toilet seats, paint brushes, clothes lines plastic pipes, all electronic and TVs, Radios etc., dog leashes, nylon ropes, torches, insect repellents etc.  

     Kitchen – refrigerator exteriors and interiors, ice trays, water bottles, waste disposal bags etc. all sorts of plastic containers; Teflon for non-stick pans, buckets etc.

    Furnishings – synthetic polyester blended curtains, sofa coverings, plastic chairs, floor coverings and synthetic tiles etc

    Automobiles – Dashboard housing, door panels, windshield wipers, steering wheel, seats, coolant, paint etc.

     This is just a short, sketchy list of plastic products, the list is never ending and continues to grow by the second.

Plastic Waste is a problem. An enormous problem

    The worldwide production of plastics reached a staggering 460 million metric tons in 2023.

     Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them.

     It’s not just plastic bags and packaging that is the problem of plastic waste, there are bits and pieces of plastic everywhere, like the disposal of used computers, laptops, smartphones and so many other things we don’t think about as plastic.

     Plastics, once created, will stay around for hundreds of years. Plastics break down differently from other organic materials. They slowly degrade into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic known as microplastics and nano plastics and these minute pieces of plastic can now be found everywhere, from the oceans’ depths and far deserts, to the most remote and high mountaintop.

     These tiny plastic particles are dangerous and have found their way into every step of the food chain, from marine life to human beings.  They’re found everywhere, from table salt to our food and bottled water.  They pollute and poison environments and the animals that inhabit them.

     Plastics is possibly the single most damaging products that humans have ever produced, and the damage it causes will last longer than we do. 

So, what can we do? 

     Consume resources responsibly – consume less, waste less – Reduce – Reuse – Recycle

     According to a report – Nairobi, 16 May 2023, by UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Plastic pollution could reduce by 80 per cent by 2040 if countries and companies make deep policy and market shifts using existing technologies.

     The report suggests first eliminating problematic and unnecessary plastics to reduce the size of the problem. Subsequently, the report calls for three market shifts – reuse, recycle and reorient and diversify products:

     Reuse: Promoting reuse options, including refillable bottles, bulk dispensers, deposit-return-schemes, packaging take-back schemes etc., can reduce 30 per cent of plastic pollution by 2040.

     Recycle: Reducing plastic pollution by an additional 20 per cent by 2040 can be achieved if recycling becomes a more stable and profitable venture. Removing fossil fuels subsidies, enforcing design guidelines to enhance recyclability, and other measures would increase the share of economically recyclable plastics from 21 to 50 per cent.

     Reorient and diversify: Careful replacement of products such as plastic wrappers, sachets and takeaway items with products made from alternative materials (such as paper or compostable materials) can deliver an additional 17 per cent decrease in plastic pollution.

We are the cause of the problem so we should solve it too.

     We need to think long term; understand the significance of our actions and really care about their consequences. We’ve got to give up short term thinking, and improve our ability to plan and design for long term, and work with good intentions and reverence for nature.

Pratap Antony writes on ecology and environment, social justice and pluralism, management ideas and issues, jazz and western classical music and Indian classical dance.   

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