Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3 (Ecology & Environment)
Explain the types of plastics and their ill effects. How effectively will the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 and amendment rules, 2018 solve plastic pollution? (15 Marks)
“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, was a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time. the theme also stressed on the words – if we cannot reuse it, refuse it. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has recently amended the Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2018 to reduce plastic pollution and find a better solution for plastic waste management.
Types of plastics:
Plastics can be divided into two major categories
- Thermoset or thermosetting plastics
Once cooled and hardened, these plastics retain their shapes and cannot return to their original form. They are hard and durable. Thermosets can be used for auto parts, aircraft parts and tyres. Examples include polyurethanes, polyesters, epoxy resins and phenolic resins.
Less rigid than thermosets, thermoplastics can soften upon heating and return to their original form. They are easily moulded and extruded into films, fibres and packaging. Examples include polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Let’s look at some common plastics.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate(PETE or PET) – this plastic is one of the most commonly used on the planet example-all plastic bottles and containers. PET is well-known for spreading the poisonous antimony. According to a survey the antimony present in a water bottle is 100 times more than it is present in the groundwater level. People who have been exposed to antimony for a longer period of time have showed signs of respiratory distress and skin diseases.
- High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) –It was first used for pipes in storm sewers, drains, and culverts. Today, this plastic is used for a wide variety of products. Like PET, it is also considered “safe,” but has been shown to leach estrogenic chemicals dangerous to foeti and juveniles.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – PVC is one of the oldest synthetic materials in industrial production. It has been called the “poison plastic” because it contains numerous toxins and is harmful to our health and the environment. Dioxins are formed when PVC is burnt. Dioxins are human carcinogens and are one of the harmful chemical substances that have been tested.
- Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) – LDPE was the first polyethylene to be produced, making it the godfather of the material. Packaging and containers made from LDPE make up about 56% of all plastic waste, 75% of which comes from residential households. LDPE is very difficult to recycle and has shown signs of releasing nonylphenol when exposed to sunlight.
- Polypropylene (PP)PP actually has a high heat tolerance and as such, does not seem to leach many of the chemicals other plastics do. Examples include bottle tops, bottles, and fittings.
- Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS) – Since polystyrene is lightweight and easy to form into plastic materials, it also breaks effortlessly, making it more harmful to the environment. Beaches all over the world are littered with pieces of polystyrene, endangering the health of marine animals. Polystyrene can leach styrene, a suspected carcinogen, especially in the presence of heat.
- Miscellaneous plastics( Includes: Polycarbonate, polylactide, acrylic, acrylonitrile butadiene, styrene, fiberglass, and nylon
Ill effects of plastics are:
- It Upsets the Food Chain: Because it comes in sizes large and small, polluting plastics even affect the world’s tiniest organisms such as plankton. When these organisms become poisoned due to plastic ingestion, this causes problems for the larger animals that depend on them for food. This can cause a whole slew of problems, each step further along the food chain. Plus, it means that plastic are present in the fish that many people eat every day.
- Cosmetic Plastic Exposure- micro plastic can have hormone disrupting effects on the body, which can lead to thyroid problems, infertility, and an increased risk of cancer.
- Wildlife contamination- Micro-plastics make their way into rivers, lakes, and oceans when discarded, polluting wildlife. It can have toxic consequences for animals, and can contaminate the fish we consume.
- Gingivitis- Micro-beads in toothpastes can get trapped on the gum line, retaining bacteria and leading to gingivitis, gum disease, and other infections.
- Contaminated sea salt- Micro-plastics can make their way into sea salt found in grocery stores, adding to the plastic body burden.
- Not only they are chemical particles that come in close contact with your skin, which can absorb toxins, but they also create huge problems for wildlife, fish, and the environment.
The Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016
- Increase minimum thickness of plastic carry bags from 40 to 50 microns and stipulate minimum thickness of 50 micron for plastic sheets also to facilitate collection and recycle of plastic waste
- Expand the jurisdiction of applicability from the municipal area to rural areas, because plastic has reached rural areas also
- To bring in the responsibilities of producers and generators, both in plastic waste management system and to introduce collect back system of plastic waste by the producers/brand owners, as per extended producers responsibility
- To introduce collection of plastic waste management fee through pre-registration of the producers, importers of plastic carry bags/multilayered packaging and vendors selling the same for establishing the waste management system
- To promote use of plastic waste for road construction as per Indian Road Congress guidelines or energy recovery, or waste to oil etc. for gainful utilization of waste and also address the waste disposal issue;
- To entrust more responsibility on waste generators, namely payment of user charge as prescribed by local authority, collection and handing over of waste by the institutional generator, event organizers.
An eco-friendly product, which is a complete substitute of the plastic in all uses, has not been found till date. In the absence of a suitable alternative, it is impractical and undesirable to impose a blanket ban on the use of plastic all over the country. The real challenge is to improve plastic waste management systems.
The Plastic Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018
- The amended Rules lay down that the phasing out of Multilayered Plastic (MLP)is now applicable to MLP, which are “non-recyclable, or non-energy recoverable, or with no alternate use.”
- The amended Rules also prescribe a central registration system for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner.
- The Rules also lay down that any mechanism for the registration should be automated and should take into account ease of doing business for producers, recyclers and manufacturers.
- The centralized registration system will be evolved by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)for the registration of the producer/importer/brand owner. While a national registry has been prescribed for producers with presence in more than two states, a state-level registration has been prescribed for smaller producers/brand owners operating within one or two states.
- Waste-to-energy (WTE) plantsthat incinerate municipal wastes to produce energy have been hailed as a solution to the gargantuan problem. Apart from several state and city-level governments, the Centre also plans to invest in 100 such plants by 2020. But such plants would contribute to air pollution, besides derailing plastic waste management efforts.
- Shop Friendly:Plastic bags were once a modern convenience but can be efficiently replaced by reusable bags, many of which fold up compactly in order to be portable.
- Recycle Everything: Try and select items that come in non-plastic recycled and recyclable packaging, to do your best to properly handle items that can’t be reused. Check everything before you put it in the trash, as more and more items are able to be recycled these days.
- Educate Businesses: Speaking to local restaurants and businesses about options that they can switch to for packaging, storing, and bagging items. Many companies are starting to come up with excellent low-cost replacements, such as bamboo utensils in place of plastic ones.
- Substitution of plastic with other biodegradable materialssuch as reused cotton or paper.
We need a radical shift in our thinking and behavior as to how we should deal with plastic waste. Government ban and other measures won’t work alone. Small steps make big difference. Its Our conviction towards the better health of Environment that is going to work. We need a big behavioural change in how we use, dispose and find an alternatives to plastics. Unless acted now it will be too late to control this menace.
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