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Life in plastic, not fantastic

In declaring ‘We are sitting on a plastic time bomb,’ the Supreme Court is entirely in the right. The amount of plastic waste material that accumulates in India is staggering and there are no adequate waste disposal means deployed. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has informed the Supreme Court this week that 56 lakh tonnes of plastic waste were generated in India annually. Delhi is at the top when it comes to plastic waste generation, with 689.5 tonnes being produced each day, followed by Chennai (429.4 tonnes), Kolkata (425.7 tonnes) and Mumbai (408.3 tonnes). It is not surprising that the amount of plastic waste generated in the country has increased dramatically. This is largely the result of an increase in population, growing urbanisation and life-style changes. As per industry estimates, the per capita consumption of plastic in India was at about eight kg during 2011-12 and is expected to increase to around 12 kg by 2017. Compared to other waste streams, such as paper or metals, the rate of plastics recovered for recycling is relatively low. The result is the accumulation of the waste with the trouble with plastic being that it is durable and degrades very slowly. This waste is a source of continuing pollution as plastic is not biodegradable and poisons the environment for decades.

Since its mass production began in the 1940s, plastic’s wide range of unique properties has propelled it to an essential item in society. Plastics are very long-lived products that can potentially have service over decades, and yet our main use of these lightweight, inexpensive materials are as single-use items that go to the garbage dump within a year, where they are likely to persist for centuries. Evidence is mounting that the chemical building blocks that make plastics so versatile are the same components that might harm people and the environment and the production and disposal of plastic may contribute to an array of environmental problems. Plastic waste may have numerous health hazards, though not all are precisely known or documented. There is therefore a strong need to control the problem of plastic waste. This is not just through finding ways of plastic disposal and waste management. It is also through finding and promoting alternatives to plastic itself such as jute. Unless steps are taken rapidly to control the menace of pollution caused by plastics, the problem will grow out of hand and will be unmanageable.
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