Plastics For Ever?

Plastics became a popular item of use from 1950 onwards. I recently saw a clip in Facebook about plastics which I dutifully shared hoping to create some awareness about what we are dealing with. This knowledge, courtesy the Science Advance Journal states that there is currently about 8.3 billion tons of plastic existing in the world.

April 22, 2018, 11:49 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL.11, No.19, April 20, 2018 (Baishakh 07,2075) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Many years ago I remember reading a book by Ian Fleming titled 'Diamonds For Ever' after which I saw the film and listened to a same titled song sung by Shirley Bassey.  All were worldwide hits.  One material in multi usage in the world scene that is a ‘see through’ and in massive use is plastics.  Whilst initially lauded for its worldwide usefulness it is now a problem and hazard because of its widespread use and subsequent disposal.

Plastics became a popular item of use from 1950 onwards.  I recently saw a clip in Facebook about plastics which I dutifully shared hoping to create some awareness about what we are dealing with. This knowledge, courtesy the Science Advance Journal states that there is currently about 8.3 billion tons of plastic existing in the world.  In terms of space estimate, it would cover and occupy an area of Argentina, the eighth largest country in the world to a height of eight inches all over the land.  Currently however about 79% of the plastics are in landfills and of the remaining about 8 million tons are in the oceans of the world. The forecast is that by the year 2050 there will be 12 billion tons of plastic trash. Some experts expect the usage of plastic to double every 15 years. A BBC report in mid March 2018 stated that the plastic in the ocean will double between 2015 and 2025.  The Washington Post reports that between California and Hawaii, there is a Great Pacific Garbage Patch, three times the size of France.  Are all these are doomsday forecasts as one ponders over them?

When plastics first came on the world scene, its use was not widespread.   I remember reading in a newspaper in the UK about the collecting and processing of plastic trash to make planks to be used to make and place ‘all weather benches’ in the public parks.  These were hardier and longer lasting then benches made of wood.  Sometime later, the UK sent a major portion of its plastic trash to China but is now in a fix as the Chinese no longer want the wastes!

A news item of Feb. 2018 reports a study done in the depths of 600 meters in the North Western area of the Atlantic Ocean which showed that 73% of the fish had remnants of plastic in their entrails.  Even the 4.5cm long Lantern fish were found by the researches of the Galway University of Ireland to have on average about 13 pieces of small plastic in their bodies. These findings have been published in the magazine 'Frontiers in Marine Science'.    The mouth and body of a sperm whale washed up on the Mexican coast was found to have a large amount of plastic in its mouth and gut.

However the BBC /CNN has also shown that in certain areas of the world,  the plastic that is finding its way to the ocean can also broken down and degraded by some species of bacteria / fungi and then consumed by the marine life. This food so developed in the ocean is then consumed by humans. The technology to bring all this about is there but has yet to be developed and utilised on a large scale. What is worrying is that salt extracted from the seawaters has been found to have traces of plastics.

Recently there has been some publicity about processed plastics made into small grit, then mixed with asphalt and utilised to make roads / highways in India.  This was claimed to be not only less costly but even more durable and longer lasting than the roads or motorways made in the traditional manner.  In Mexico the thrown away plastics are used to make sheets or boards which are utilised to make 'Homes for the Homeless' at approx $ 260 per unit!

Special types of plastic which are degradable and not harmful to marine life are being advocated.  The island of Bali in Indonesia is having the discarded plastic materials in the seas surrounding it and affecting the marine life therein.  The Indonesians are said to be developing a special ' bio plastic' for making water bottles that will start disintegrating in 48 hours when dumped in a trash heap. This is very realistic. 

We might think that this is not a problem for us as we are landlocked.  However plastic, a worldwide problem is one in our part too.  Some European countries are using plastic water bottles that can be refilled at many places and not thrown away after single use. 

I was happy when Lal Babu Pundit was appointed as the Minister for Population & Environment for I have an impression that he is a down-to-earth being who is sincere.  He has been telling manufacturers that producing non-biodegradable plastics will be an offence.  He has also entreated the public to change habits and to use and reuse bags made of alternative materials such as cloth, jute etc.  A step that our government could take for the national good would be to set up a plastic recycling factory within the country. Perhaps our Northern neighbour could help us with their expertise.

Not just plastics, but the dumping of wastes is not a new phenomenon.  In the middle of the twentieth century the dumping of mercury remnants as industrial waste in the sea water, led to it being absorbed into the flesh of fish and shellfish of the region.  The consumption of marine life from the Minamata Bay in Japan, led to paralysis, a condition which came to be known as Minamata disease.   More recently there is news that the fishes of the Indochina seas have been contaminated with industrial effluent and should not be eaten.  Such fishes, being offered at cheap rates are said to be imported into Nepal for consumption by us!

Dr.Hemang Dixit.jpg

Hemang Dixit

The author writes fiction under the name of Mani Dixit. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd

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