IN recent years, around the world, vigorous and noisy anti plastic campaign by the so called environmentalists and activists to stop using plastics for short term and long term need have been gaining strength, backed by the media campaign.
The campaign against plastics has now virtually descended to a hate plastic campaign, making innocent people think that use of plastic in any form for any application is bad and against public health and against environmental interests. While such is the intensive global campaign against plastics, the negative impact of such campaign amongst the public who do not have adequate technological understanding of various related matters is severe. In India, the hate campaign against plastics has assumed a complexion similar to the campaign against untouchability when historically some castes were discriminated.
Government of India has pledged to eliminate single use plastics in India by 2022 and for setting such target, India has won global acclaim for its “Beat Plastic Pollution Resolve” declared on world Environmental Day last year. So far, around 22 states and Union territories in India have joined anti plastic campaign by announcing ban on single use plastics such as carry bags, cups , plates, cutlery, straws and thermocol products.
When the title of the world anti plastic campaign was termed as “Beat Plastic Pollution” resolve, the campaign was virtually launched against all sort of plastics for any type of use, which made it to be unrealistic, counter productive and negative campaign.
While launching the full fledged anti plastic campaign, neither the central and the state governments in India nor the environmentalists and activists have cared to make any distinction between various types of plastics that are subjected to different use and applications. This has given an impression to the common man that the use of plastics in any form for any application should be rejected and producers of plastic goods are viewed as polluters by some section of the people.
Millions of tons of different category of plastic are being used around the world for various applications. Such plastics include polyethylene, poly propylene, poly acetal, poly carbonate and many others. They are used for various applications including in construction activities , pipelines and fittings , packaging , electronics and tele-communication, agriculture, medical diagnostics, fish net and several others. Plastic is now playing an integral and inevitable part in many economic and industrial activities and this has to be recognized by the anti plastic campaigners. The question is whether it would be possible to eliminate the use of all types of plastics in all types of applications. This is technologically and economically unfeasible.
The main campaign against plastics centres around the fact that plastic is non biodegradable. The anti plastic campaigners gleefully carry out propaganda that if one would keep plastic product, it would remain in the same shape even after one thousand years. However, the ground reality is that non biodegradability as such need not be considered as negative aspect, as in several applications the permanent use of a material is a positive factor.
It is further said that plastics has been seen in the dung of elephants , in the stomach of the cows which eat them etc. It is also said that thousands of tons of plastics are dumped and seen in the oceans and reservoirs as waste product permanently floating around. The electronic waste materials and plastic products used as packaging material etc, are also seen dumped everywhere. There are also allegations that plastic products are carcinogenic when incinerated. But, the question is why should the used plastics be dumped or burnt.
While the dumped plastics as waste material are a problem, it needs to be thought about whether the ban on single use plastics will relieve the waste plastic burden to any significant extent. While single use plastic is sought to be banned or restricted around the world in single use application such as carry bags, plastics are used in several packaging products such as packaging of food , cosmetics, groceries , industrial goods etc. which would continue to be used for long time to come, due to the absence of equally efficient and convenient substitute material.
Around the world, many research efforts have been initiated to develop and produce bio polymers such as poly lactic acid , starch blended polymer etc. to make the plastics bio degradable. However, the technology development efforts are still largely in the formative stage and commercially available bio degradable products in adequate measure and quantity to replace conventional plastics with equal efficacy and utility value are unlikely to be available in the near future. The cost of production of such bio polymers is also a vital issue, as higher production cost would make it difficult for bio polymer to compete with the conventional plastics.
The anti plastic campaign deploring the use of plastic entirely is not appropriate. It is high time that the anti plastic campaign should be tempered and reformed to make a distinction between the plastics of different types for use in different applications.
The campaign against the single use plastics and regulatory measures which have just been started in India and several countries is also likely to meet practical problems before long, due to non availability of substitute products in adequate quantity with equal efficacy. The present use of single use plastics are so high in quantity that replacing them with paper or jute or cotton textile can be done only to a limited extent due to availability issue of substitute products. In the case of textiles, some of the products like polyester staple fibre, polyester filament yarn, nylon etc. are non bio degradable products but still are used in some countries like India as substitute for conventional plastics for packaging and as carry bags.
Obviously, the anti plastic campaign is being carried out without tangible alternate plans. It is doubtful that while several state governments in India have banned single use plastics , whether any systematic study have been carried out to assess the availability of substitute products. Obviously, the entire strategy and plans to ban use of plastics is being carried out in vacuum.
The problem is not due to the use of plastics but the lack of facility to recycle and reuse plastics after its utility is over. While some baby steps have been taken to recycle plastics in isolated way in small capacity plants, a pragmatic world wide campaign in massive scale to recycle used plastics is yet to be launched.
Until suitable alternate strategies and measures are worked out and well implemented to develop bio degradable substitute for plastics and recycle the used plastics, the anti plastic campaign is likely to remain as a matter of academic interest and exciting issue and topic for the media and environmentalists and activists.
Nandini Consultancy Centre, M 60/1, 4th Cross Street, Besant Nagar, Chennai - 600 090
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