The era of 3500 BC is known as the metal age. People started using metals in their daily lives. Metals became a part of their lives. Similarly, the 20th century and 21st century are informally known as the Age of Plastics, unfortunately so. Plastics and polythene have become a part-and-parcel of our daily lives. While plastics have many benefits, they harm nature immensely. Hence, more and more governments around the world are trying to find out the alternatives to plastics and poly-bags.
Invention of Plastic
Today, we are seeing an increased awareness on the ill effects of plastics. The governments too acknowledge that plastic is bad for Earth and humanity. However, the reason behind the discovery of Plastics was a noble one. In the later part of the 19th century, billiards became popular indoor sports among the well-off people. The billiard balls had to be crafted with care. The balls should have weights, they should glide across the board with a tap of the cue, they must reflect back gorgeously after hitting the guards at the end of the board. The ivory was perfect to make a billiard ball. However, the game became so popular that there was a great demand for the billiard balls. Ivory was obtained from elephants after killing them. It became almost sure that the elephants were about to go extinct.
In order to save the elephants and invent an alternative source of the raw material needed to make billiard balls, John Hyatt started researching. After many failures, he was able to make the first ever synthetic polymer.
As time passed, more researchers such as Baekaland furthered the research on plastics. The main benefit of plastic is one can mould them into any shape and it can then be hardened to give it a solid structure.
Dangers of Plastics
Plastics are Non-Biodegradable
Most of the things in nature get degraded by bacteria and other micro-organisms resulting in their blending with the earth. However, plastics are non-biodegradable. After they are discarded, they stay on the face of earth without getting eaten away by the bacteria. Hence, the accumulation of plastic wastes results in the clogging of the drainage system, filling of oceans with these wastes and endangering the lives of animals. As the plastics are discarded, they break down into small pieces without getting decomposed.
In 2016, globally, 320 million tons of plastics were produced. Now after their usefulness, they will be discarded. One can easily imagine how worrisome this plastic pollution is.
Burning Plastics Does Not Solve the Issue
One may think, if plastic contributes so much to land pollution, why not burn it? The problem is, plastics release toxins like dioxin when burned. Plastic is not a natural thing. It is synthetic. Any synthetic material, when burned, will release harmful air pollutants. Burning plastics thus contributes to climate change and also to the rise of sea levels.
Marine Life at Risk
60 to 95% of the pollutants that are found in the oceans across the world are plastic wates. Every year 8 million metric tonnes of plastics end up in the ocean. As a result the marine life is suffering badly. Consumption of plastics is proving to be fatal to sea turtles, sea birds, whales and fishes.
The plastic pollution in the oceans and seas are affecting human beings also. More and more fishes are consuming the micro plastics in the oceans and seas. When we eat these fish, we are in-taking those plastics as well.
As more and more plastic wastes are accumulated, they start to go deep down the earth. The small pieces of plastics contaminate the groundwater. When this contaminated ground water is drunk, people get sick because of the harmful chemicals present in these small pieces of plastics.
In India, more and more jute based industries are downing their shutters because of low demand. The jute bags have been replaced by the poly bags. However, the growing push towards plastic-ban is giving some hope to the dying jute industry.
Plastic is a curse to humanity. If the production of plastics is not stopped, soon our earth will become like those dirty uninhabited places that one sees on dystopian Hollywood movies.
Scientists have identified a strain of plastic-eating bacteria that is giving them hope that one day these small organisms could deliver us from the evil of plastics. Countries like India are using innovative strategies like using plastics in the construction of roads to re-use the discarded plastics. Humanity needs an alternative plastic if it wants to see a cleaner, greener world.
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