Rajya Sabha TV In Depth – Sea of Plastic
The environment which is one of the most important treasures on planet Earth, has been treated recklessly over the years by human beings. As the World Environment Day, 2018 was observed, the biggest challenge that remains is to beat the plastic pollution. Plastic despite being known to be non-biodegradable, has become an unavoidable part of human lives now. Today, almost 4 million Tonnes of trash is thrown every day, of which 12.8% is plastic.
- World Environment Day (Eco Day / WED) is observed on 5th June every year and has been a flagship campaign by United Nations since 1974 for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues from marine pollution, human overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. It has become a global platform with over 143 countries participating annually.
- World Environment Day has a new theme every year that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities adopt worldwide to advocate environmental causes. The theme for 2018 is “Beat Plastic Pollution” and the host nation is India. The theme for 2017 was “Connecting people to Nature” with Canada being the host.
- Humans have come across from the stone age to plastic age recently over thousands of years. Plastics are used from 1950s onwards and today it has become an inseparable part of our daily lives. Plastic surrounds us at our homes, offices and everywhere else as it is used in making bottles, bags, cars, computers, etc.
- Plastic is a polymer that was considered as one of the biggest breakthroughs made by man. It gained with it many advantages –
- Easy availability
- Low cost
- Minimal weight
- Could be moulded into any shape
- Didn’t break easily and didn’t degrade easily
- But, the advantage of not breaking and degrading easily has become one of the biggest cause of concern today. There is no way to dispose it off. It may take thousands of years in degrading even if it is burnt. It is thus, very dangerous for the ecology.
- In 1950, global plastic production = 1.5 million Tonnes
In 2016, global plastic production = 335 million Tonnes
It is still rising at a rate of 8.6% / year.
- The dependence on plastics is affecting the planet Earth. The drains, rivers, seas and oceans are getting blocked and choked with plastic. Over 8 million Tonnes of plastic is dumped in oceans every year. At many places, mini islands of plastic have formed. Microplastics dissolve in water and can’t be seen with naked eye.
- It is estimated that by 2050 over 850 million tonnes of plastic wastes would have accumulated in oceans of the world. It would be more than the total weight of marine animals and fisheries, projected to be 820 Million tonnes by 2050.
- Plastic harms the ecology in every stages from production to usage. It is made from chemicals that are derived from petroleum-based substances. It is toxic and undergoes reactions when it is being produced and even when it is discarded.
- Only 15% of the plastic remains on land. The rest goes into the water bodies killing organisms living there and also poisons the salt in the sea. This indirectly affects human beings, as the salt is consumed.
- As per an estimate, in 2015: Of total plastic wastes, 9% was recycled, 12% incinerated and 79% accumulated in landfills/ natural environment.
- Types of plastic (based on size):
- Macro-plastic: 25mm or more
- Meso-plastic: 5mm to 25mm
- Micro-plastic: 1 micron (0.001mm) to 5mm
- Plastic flows into the sea in the form of:
- Fragments as common microplastics
- Plastic thread from synthetic fibres
- Food items in the form of foam
- Microbeads from soaps, cosmetics
- Building and construction activities
- Fishing and coastal tourism, etc.
- Plastics are present in huge quantities in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Ocean. Plastics in the form of polythene and polypropylene are present. Their consumption then kills the marine animals and human beings also acquire various diseases on their consumption of sea food.
- If no measures are taken for stopping the plastic wastes from sea, the coming decade can lead to a number of organisms in danger. Various human activities in the 21st century has already endangered a lot of species.
- Example- Hau Loc beach of Vietnam is choked by the weight of plastic waste. The situation is even worse in neighbouring
- Because of oceanic circulation pattern, the plastic at Indian coast can travel to Australian coast. Ocean has no boundaries as such.
- India has the responsibility to spread awareness in the world about the dangers of the plastic. The reception it has received on the WED shows India is ready to move in that direction.
- India has a coastline of over 7500kms.
India’s coastal states are: Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal
Coastal UTs: Daman & Diu and Puducherry
Two island groups: Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry.
Coastal cities: Porbandar, Goa, Udupi, Chennai, etc. Wastes from these cities are released into the oceans, polluting the marine environment.
- India made resolution to make a clean country under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Although it has helped in making the streets and platforms clean, the question still left is what happens to the plastic that is thrown into the dustbins.
- Some of the ways to reduce use of plastic can be:
- Switching to cloth bags and carrying reusable water bottles
- Avoiding synthetic fibres and using cotton cloths
- Pushing for recycling of wastes
There should be a rule and regulation mechanism for limiting the amount of plastics that is dumped into water bodies like the rules for measuring Air Quality Index and Oxygen measurement in water. Such regulations can help in minimising the plastic waste dumping in water bodies. Also, efforts must be made on individual level to reduce the use of plastic to save the environment for coming generations.