Please Understand, Plastic is not a problem!By Manojj Dhinakaran
January 21, 2019
Recently all the media have been surging with just one topic – Global Pollution and as a major contributor to this as plastic. Plastic is seen as a big problem and people are having to use this product inevitably. But I am here to assure you that plastic is not a problem. If it were a problem why haven’t we still stopped using this super durable product? Let’s discuss. Before we get into the details of it let’s see a small recap over the information that we know about them.
Plastic and its History:
The love for plastics is not something new to us humans. A wide range of products life cups, toys, food packing etc… would not have been possible if not for plastics. They revolutionized the way of human living. But all these dramas stated in the 1860’s when a replacement for Ivory and similar products was much needed. This led to the innovation of the first nitrocellulose-based product that was able to replace the traditional ivory billiards saving countless elephants that were being slaughtered for this purpose. This caused a frenzy among the scientific community opening a gateway for the ability to make use of synthetic compounds to mimic the naturally occurring keratin products like ivory, these chemically derived products were called polymers and later as plastics. The second in this line of products came with the discovery of Bakelite that was much stronger, durable and efficient was introduced in 1907 by Leo Baekeland. This following the industrial revolution made the plastic a booming new industry. Finding its wat right form the household to the military units of WW 1 and the hospitals of today. With the help of scientific breakthrough, different types of plastic were developed. But primarily classified into bio-degradable and non-degradable. Over 90% of the plastic that is being produced is non-bio-degradable and takes many years to decompose. But why is this important?
Time Capsules to the Future:
Over 8 billion metric ones of plastic have been manufactured since it’s discovery and not even a considerable amount of it has been recycled. Walking the shores of the Marina beach I came across a patch of plastic that had been embedded in the soil that got me thinking, “If this was left to be undisturbed how many years will it be before it completely degrades without a trace?” Guess the answer for it will be Not in 1000 years, remotely. Plastics are molecularly constructed products of polymer (chains of small units of a compound) that has the ability to withstand shear stress and the climatic effect they are very hard to decompose. Scientists and geologists had already warned of the impacts of the plastic on earth if we were not to curb our increasing demands. Unfortunately, we didn’t, and now we have created a new epoch (geological time scale) called the Anthropocene, where we are identified by the plastic and pollutant sediment found over our land surface. These plastic molecules will exist even after a million years now and if someone is to do a dating of records, they will only find plastic and radioactive compounds! Therefore, the patch that I left undisturbed in the beach could be a time capsule message to my feature generations after several years! I might add my name and Facebook page info there so my great grandkids or their great grandkids could get to know about me. The fact is we created so much plastic without knowing what to do with them. We kept creating them for economic and personal benefits and now they have caught up with us in the most gruesome way they can.
Plastic Monuments of Earth:
Now that we created a new geological time scale for ourselves, let’s see what are the monuments that we shall be commemorated within the future generations. These monuments will stand the test of time until the last day on earth and nothing can be done about them, they also like living beings cause effects over the society and grow in size but unlike the human nature to die, they don’t. Some of the most significant ones are,
- Land Fills:
These are dump yards where most of our waste gets buried, hoping they will get decomposed someday. But the fact is no one really cares about the consequences of these practices. Landfills though being covered up when full are still exposed to the natural elements that react with them to form a toxic pollutant called leachate that has the potential to percolate into the groundwater and spread to surrounding ecosystems killing the living organisms by poisoning them. These will stay forever untouched and making land reclamation very hard and unfit for any other purposes.
- The great pacific garbage patch:
It is called great for a reason. The plastics that don’t make it to the landfills find themselves into the oceans one way or the other. There due to the movement of the ocean current and that of the wind patterns the floating plastics find themselves in a vortex at certain locations of the oceans forming a large mass of floating debris. This large floating debris is called a garbage patch and the Pacific patch I the largest one. Spanning for about 15,000,000 square kilometers, which is close to the size of Russia and it keeps growing big. It affects the marine ecosystem the most causing mass extinctions at a rate not seen in history. This is due to the toxic chemicals being released as a by-product of the constant exposure to the natural elements. Some of the chemicals include BPA and DEHP used in their manufacturing that leads to cancer and other immunological anomalies.
Last in the list but the most potential of all the forms of the plastic, this is the ultimate deal. Due to constant exposure to the UV radiation, heat and constant battering of the ocean currents the plastic materials break down into small microscopic structures called microplastics had found its way into the human food chain. The microplastics are very hard to see by the naked eye gets consumed into the marine food web and then lands up in our plates. About more than 10 trillion microplastic particles are floating in the ocean that can’t be cleaned up! All thanks to our negligence….
Plastic is not a problem but a THREAT:
Please! At least wake up now! Plastics are not a problem anymore, we are well past the time to treat them as one. They have become a threat with a capital T to our survival. Nearly all the babies and all the adult human beings have a measurable amount of microplastic in their body. They have the potential to alter the proper functioning of the body. Microplastic has the tendency to mimic like enzyme (protein molecule of importance for body regulation) and create massive hormonal changes that can’t be easily reversed. Other manifests as toxins in the body directly. Due to our complete negligence and irresponsibility to act in time we have become so much dependant on the plastics for our daily life routines that they are now indispensable. Yes! They are great, useful and cheap in terms of both costs of manufacturing and energy required for it. But is it all worth the sacrifices that we have to make for them?
Plastics can’t be ended:
Unfortunately, switching over to alternatives for plastic is not an easy task. It is the only known material for all the above-mentioned prospects. Moreover not many reusable and biodegradable products are economic or as efficient as the plastics themselves. Despite the new breakthrough in this field recycling has also been quite challenging as the recycling costs are much more than manufacturing cost themselves. Thus, the ban on plastics is not a solution as already existing plastic is not being addressed.
It is not too late to change still:
The actual problem arose because of uncontrolled production of the plastic and their saturation. If only that was optimized then, we wouldn’t be in this position now. Though we have reached to a point where the point of recovery for the impacts is far, far away we can still stop from the further worsening of this situation here. Things like reusing the plastic until they are completely worn off, recycling them in the proper way they should be and following some great scientific advancements like plastic pyrolysis can help a bit. Finally, it comes down to one’s own responsibility in saving the planet and make it a better place to live in for the future generations to come. Even small efforts by a large group can make a tremendous effort.
References and other great videos for more information:
Pc: Pixel stock images.