Thursday, March 4, 2021

Plastic: The new WMD

Reading Time: 6 minutesOn 1 July this year, Western Australia and Queensland joined South Australia, ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania in banning single-use plastic bags from major supermarkets. NSW remains the only state that hasn’t yet done so, although supermarket chains Coles, IGA, and Woolworths have now joined Harris Farm Markets, who went plastic-free in January this year.
Plastic.Indian Link
In India, many states have had plastic ban and restrictions in place, as well as citizen championing, long before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared that India will eliminate all single-use plastic by 2022.
Convenient lifestyle has ensured that plastic has, in one way or the other, entrenched itself in every aspect of our daily lives. UN Environment’s latest report ‘Single-use Plastics: A roadmap for Sustainability’ says that 50 per cent of the plastic waste generated globally in 2015 was plastic packaging. The culprits found across the environment are, in order of enormity, cigarette butts, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, plastic grocery bags, plastic lids, straws and stirrers, other types of plastic bags, and foam take-away containers.
The report was released in India this year on World Environment Day (5 June) by the Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim and Modi. It is the “first comprehensive review of state of plastics”, a global assessment of government action against plastic pollution. Major governments across the world had already announced changes in the two decades, some early adopters being Denmark (1994) and Sikkim (1998). UN Environment’s CleanSeas Campaign launched in February 2017 was all about showcasing what plastic waste is doing to our oceans, wildlife, and us.
So what is all the fuss about? We have been manufacturing plastic since the 1950s, and its production has now overtaken almost every other material.
 Plastic.Indian Link
The problem is that most of it is made for single use and throw. The product or packaging is either recycled, incinerated, landfilled, dumped in uncontrolled sites, or littered in the environment. Around 79 per cent of plastic waste then shows up in landfills, dumps, or the environment, with 12 per cent incinerated, and only 9 per cent of the 9 billion tonnes recycled.
The report also states that we consume an estimated one to five trillion plastic bags worldwide each year – a number that calculates to almost 10 million plastic bags per minute. Strung together, “they would go around the world seven times every hour and cover an area twice the size of France”.
Here are some disturbing statistics:

  • 322 million tons of plastic was produced in 2015.
  • Each year, 8 million tons of plastic is released into the ocean.
  • 60 to 90 per cent of marine litter comprises of various plastic polymers.
  • An estimated 99 per cent of sea birds will have absorbed plastic by 2020.
  • 600 marine species are affected by marine litter.
  • Around 50 trillion microplastic particles exist in our oceans already.
  • Personal care and cosmetic products could contain equal amount of plastic they are packaged in.
  • A single synthetic garment expends more than 1,900 microplastic fibres.

If we don’t start fixing our consumption patterns and waste management practices now, we will have 12 billion tons of plastic litter in landfills and natural environment by 2050. Many solutions are needed, including actions from government policies and consumer companies – that list is long.
Let’s talk about plastic in terms of its impact on our daily lives, and how we can reduce it.
 Plastic.Indian Link
Plastic bags and foamed plastic products are the most visible single-use plastics, and not a pretty addition to the environment, with windblown bags perched on fences or trees or floating in rivers. Single-use plastic bags, used to carry our grocery or personal items, are made of polyethylene – or polythene – a tough, light, flexible, synthetic resin obtained by polymerizing ethylene.
Foamed plastics, or commonly known brand Styrofoam, is used in food containers for its rigid, lightweight, and good insulation properties. Its main types are foamed polystyrenes, and foamed polyurethanes.
We also replaced traditional material with plastic in our consumption packaging. Milk, edible oil which once came in glass or metal, now comes in 3 or 5 layer film pouches. Toiletries (soap/shampoos) packed in paper and glass now use plastic pouches, or films. Cement and fertiliser jute sacks have been replaced by PP/HDPE woven sacks. Toothpaste’s metal tube is now a plastic lamitube.

The extent of damage

- Advertisement -

Environmental effects
Some studies suggest plastic bags and styrofoam containers may not decompose for thousands of years, resulting in polluted soil and water, and causing consumption, clogging and entanglement hazards to wildlife on land and in the ocean.
Ditto with plastic bags since they are light, and easily blown in the air. UN campaigns have shown how high concentrations of plastic materials, mainly bags, obstruct airways and stomachs of hundreds of species, including unsuspecting birds. Turtles and dolphins mistake them for food. Recent evidence suggests that toxic chemicals residue from the manufacturing process gets transferred into animals’ tissues, and subsequently into the human food chain. Microplastic particles, mentioned earlier, are harder to trace, and difficult to clear out from open oceans.
 Plastic.Indian Link
Health problems
Styrofoam products include carcinogenic chemicals like styrene and benzene, which are highly toxic when consumed. They affect the nervous system, lungs and reproductive organs. Toxins from containers transfer into food and drinks. Poor countries burn plastic waste for heat or cooking, harming people with its toxic emissions.
In the open air it releases the harmful gases furan and dioxin. Plastic bags or materials can block waterways, worsen natural disasters, and choke sewers leading to breeding of mosquitoes and pests, or lead to vector-borne diseases like malaria.
Recent reports also talk about microfibers from synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon, fabrics used in 60 per cent clothing.
During wash, plastic microfibers are shed in the washing machine – a single jacket producing up to 250,000 fibres. These travel to wastewater plants and inject themselves into marine environments, again returning to the food chain. A 2011 study states that microfibers make up 85 percent of human-made debris on shorelines around the world.
 Plastic.Indian Link
Solution and tips
The best and most effective reduction strategy is to reduce the input of plastic. Here are some tips to avoid our day-to-day consumption of plastic:

  • Avoid food, personal and cosmetic items packaged in plastic. Choose simple packaging, look for glass jars, and paper boxes.
  • Pick cloth shopping bags. Keep them handy, so they are with you even when you go to the shops unscheduled.
  • Say no to bottled water. Choose a glass bottle instead.
  • Upcycle at home. Look up innovative ways to use old items instead of throwing.
  • Say yes to reusable mugs for coffee. Keep them on your desk, in your car or in your bag for when you order.
  • Say no to straws. If you must use them, buy them in reusable stainless steel or glass.
  • Wear natural: avoid synthetic materials when buying clothes.
  • Use washable and reusable cups, plates or utensils; look out for wood or compostable material options.
  • Repair or upgrade your devices, instead of buying new.
  • Carry your own container when you order take away, and to bring home leftovers, ask if you can get the food in your own reusable container.

 Plastic.Indian Link


  • Low Density Polyethylene: Bags, trays, containers, food packaging film
  • High Density Polyethylene (HDPE): Milk bottles, freezer bags, shampoo bottles, ice cream containers.
  • Polyethylene Terephtalate (PET): Bottles for water and other drinks, dispensing containers for cleaning fluids, biscuit trays.
  • Polystyrene (PS): Cutlery, plates and cups.
  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS): Hot drink cups, insulated food packaging, protective packaging for fragile items.
  • Polycarbonate, Polypropylene (PP): Microwave dishes, ice cream tubs, potato chip bags, bottle caps.
- Advertisement -
Hamida Parkar
Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. Her work focuses on cinema, culture, women and social equity.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Ep 9: What do young Indians want from love?

Growing up in Indian culture, most of us know that love has never been as popular as marriage. Even in the movies, the main...

Ep 8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s...

To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic...

Latest News

Maju Varghese

Indian-American appointed Director of WH Military Office

  US President Joe Biden has appointed Indian-American Maju Varghese, who was the Chief Operating Officer of his campaign, as his deputy assistant and Director...
sexual assault survivor, sexual assault counsellor, sexual assault victim

I’m a sexual assault counsellor. Here’s why it’s so hard for...

  As a senior sexual assault counsellor working with Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, I often sit across from people on the worst day of...
dee domingo and raj shekhawat

A tinnitus update on World Hearing Day

  World Hearing Day is celebrated on 3 March to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness along with promoting ear care. I spoke to...

Book Review: ‘Ritu weds Chandni’ by Ameya Narvankar

  "But what is wrong with that? Why shouldn't she marry Chandni didi?," asks Ayesha, the young protagonist in Ameya Narvankar's Ritu weds Chandni. The innocent...
axar patel indian cricket player

IND v ENG: A historic Test… for all the wrong reasons

  The only bigger joke than the wicket prepared for the 3rd cricket Test between England and India at Ahmedabad’s Motera Stadium, was the renaming...