Nayantara was indulgently looking at her ten-year-old arranging her chemistry set on the dining table. While she worked in the kitchen, she kept a wary eye on her daughter. But just then, she upended the salt shaker on the table. Nayantara quickly admonished her, ‘Nila, what are you doing?’ Nilakshi calmly answered while examining the salt with her magnifying glass, ‘I’m looking for plastic, Maa.’ Nayantara’s surprise matched yours, dear reader, but the smart girl wasn’t kidding at all. Plastic is literally everywhere, and as it turns out, even in our food! And single-use plastics are especially dangerous to our environment.
The Mega Alarm of Single-Use Plastics
Nilakshi has learned about environment pollution in school where her teacher has stressed the single-use plastic menace. According to research, plastic pollution is ingested by humans at an average of 50,000 particles of micro-plastic a year. Add to this the ingestion through breathing in of micro-plastic contaminating the air around us and the perilous world of single-use plastic becomes more macabre.
Plastic litter disintegrates and creates micro-plastic pollution in the air, soil and water bodies from where they enter into our food and water sources. Some micro-plastics are minute enough to even penetrate tissue thereby making ingestion directly and through fish and meat, quite possible.
This number is, however, not the complete picture as only a fraction of our food and drinks have been examined. Hence, the real rate of plastic-pollution ingestion can run into thousands. The culprit here is clearly the prevalence of single-use plastics widespread on the planet. From bottled water to food packaging, more and more of our edible supply now comes wrapped in plastic.
A glaring testament to the hazards of uncontrolled plastic pollution is the effect it has on the seas and marine life. In Spain, a dead sperm whale was found to have 29 kg of plastic in its stomach, similar plastic junk was found inside an albatross chick and inside several turtles across species during a study. Our oceans are being polluted by 8 million tonnes of plastic annually and developing countries like ours, are a major contributor towards this.
Accumulated plastic garbage patches in the ocean in gyres are increasing with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest among them, claiming a total area of 1.6 million sq. km. At this rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic caught in the fisherman’s net than fish.
The authorities are trying to check the peril through various laws and measures like the phasing out of single-use plastics by 2022. Several central government ministries, for instance, the Indian Railways, have discontinued usage of single-use plastic items. Many corporate houses, FMCG industries, educational institutions, and public boards have resolutely discontinued or are limiting the use of single-use plastics.
The result is that most shops will now hand you fibre or paper bags, in lieu of plastic bags. Despite this, a lot is yet to be achieved in terms of checking plastic pollution. The long-term persistence and irreversibility of plastic suggest that reasonable and sustained measures are needed to prevent the release of micro-plastics around.
How many times have you asked your local store owner for a polythene bag? How many times did you use a disposable glass, snipped off the milk pouch bit, swept off plastic confetti after a party? Yes, we are all guilty. The single-use plastic menace staring us at the face today is our collective contribution through bags, bottles, disposable cutlery, and food packaging.
Support and encourage the ban of single-use plastics, pressure companies to turn to alternate packaging, and lobby for tax penalties on major defaulters. On the other end, here are some tips for you to consciously handle single-use plastics in our day-to-day life:
- Stop using disposable cups, cutlery, etc.
- Carry your own water bottle and shopping bag.
- Opt for organic produce and unpackaged food.
- Invest in reusable containers and coffee mugs.
Single-use plastic pollution is a solvable problem because we have created it through our everyday practices. The reality might be grim, the facts and figures disconcerting, but we can still make a difference. We can take any number of steps to keep it from further endangering our planet, all we need to do is bid single-use plastics a firm goodbye.