Plastics or our attitudes?
By Siva Muthu Prakash

“Plastics are always advantageous for man, supporting almost all fields of human dependence. But the major problem is with post consumer disposal of plastic” says the Managing Director of a plastic manufacturing company at Pudhucherry.

Plastics have become indispensable in our lifestyle. From toothbrushes to utensils to furniture, all home and work appliances, plastics are the main component. When it comes to waste management of plastic, the main issue is with the bulk value. It is the packaging wastes that are improperly disposed and this is the crux of the matter.

Packaging has been a predominant sector where about 40% of plastics are being used because of its low cost, compact, sustainable and aesthetic nature. While these plastic bags ease our day to day life, a few states in India have passed strict orders to avoid plastic packaging, especially grocery bags.

This is with the presumption that they form the majority of the litter and occupy a large portion of the landfills.

Although it may sound good and eco-friendly, avoiding these plastics may not entirely favour the environment. A study conducted by the “German Society for Research in the Packaging Market” showed that if plastic pack aging were replaced with other materials then weight and volume of disposables would increase approximately by a factor of 4 and 2.5 respectively. It will also consume twice the level of energy consumption and double the cost of packaging.

For example, for packing 250ml of milk, we need a 200gm glass bottle or 23gm PET bottle or 12gm aluminium can in contrast to just 6gm flexible multilayered plastic pouch which uses the least energy along with lowest CO2 emission. It also avoids the wastage of water for washing bottles and provides the most hygienic packing.

Research by Boustead Consulting & Associates (BCAL) on “life time assessment” of the grocery bags has proved that polyethylene plastics bags to be the better choice. In life time assessment, the impact of polyethylene plastic bags, paper bags and compostable plastics were monitored from the initial manufacturing of the raw materials till their end disposal to find the exact imprints on environment.

So, when plastics are found to be beneficial on any aspect, what may the factor for its blame?

T. K. Bandopadhyay (Sr. Technical Manager, Indian Centre for Plastics in Environment, Mumbai) said that “it is the problem with poor littering habits and inadequate infrastructure for the solid waste management”.

In India, when it comes to littering, we can seldom find a difference between a graduate and an illiterate. Individuals should realise that any small amount of litter thrown out to environment will invite microbes and insects and hence act as a temporary host for contagious organisms and eventually complicate the waste management process leading to loss of recyclable resource. It is due to this reason, that the percentage of package waste recycled remains culpable on plastic usage.

Although littering is one of the concerns, for several commodities, companies use excessive plastic on packaging in order to promote their products aesthetically.

In order to control such superfluous use of plastics, countries like Germany had passed ordinance where the manufacturer and distributors are obliged to take responsibility of packaging the waste produced by their product.

GreenDot is one of the systems followed by several companies where they make agreements with the local waste management organisations on polluter pays principle to ensure their support on waste management and this proves more eco-friendly.

Similar such amendments in plastic packaging regulations will be a beneficial step towards effective management of solid waste. But implementing a ban on plastic packaging might prove pointless for any legislation.

Further implementation of better methods for handling the solid waste, identifying technologies and sectors for processing and reusing different plastic materials will help preventing plastic pollution.

Thus plastics are always human friendly, but the fundamental postulate of plastic usage is the awareness and participation of individuals for the proper post usage disposal.

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