Plastic is widely used in our daily life and it is present all around us in our house, office and environment in the form of different products. It is a non-biodegradable product and the improper disposal of such plastic products in the environment will definitely have a huge impact on the environment and it will also affect the life of living organisms on the earth. With the increase in population, the amount of garbage disposal is also increasing daily. To lead a pollution free life in the earth, plastics should be recycled and used effectively. This article deals with the environmental impacts of plastics and the control measures to reduce plastic pollution.
What is plastic?
Plastic is a polymeric material that can be easily shaped or molded. It is derived from the polymers present in the natural materials like plants, minerals, oil, coal and natural gas. Polymers are a large group of monomers linked together by a chemical process called Polymerization. Synthetic and natural are the two types of polymers used to make plastics. The natural polymers are derived from silk, wool and cellulose, a substance present in trees and plants. Plastics are also made from the synthetic polymers derived from petrol, coal, oil and natural gas. Plastics contain hydrocarbons and other elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, sulphur and chlorine.
Types of plastics
Based on the processing of polymers, plastic is divided into two types- Thermoplastics and thermosetting polymers. Thermoplastics can be heated and remolded multiple times but thermosetting polymers or thermosets can be solidified only to a permanent shape. Some of the examples of thermoplastics and thermosets are
Properties of plastics
To prepare plastics of different properties appropriate to the product, the polymers are generally mixed with additives such as colorants, stabilizers, plasticizers and reinforcements. Both the chemical and the mechanical properties of a plastic depend upon the additives added to the polymer. Some of the general properties of plastics are
Applications of plastics in daily life
Plastics are of different types and are used commonly in our daily life. Nowadays it is very difficult to find a product without plastic. Both thermosets and thermoplastics are used in many products. Some of the plastic products used extensively by the humans in daily life are listed below
Is plastic hazardous?
Yes! Plastic is a non-biodegradable product and it always remains in the same state as we throw them. One of the common methods of disposal of wastes is incineration i.e. burning, but plastics cannot be disposed by burning because burning plastic will emit harmful chemical gases like carbon monoxide (CO), carbon-dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur dioxide(SO2), etc. The emission of these gases leads to global warming and pollutes the environment. Plastics contain major toxic pollutants and if it is not properly disposed or recycled, the pollutants will affect the environment by leading to air pollution, land pollution, water pollution and soil pollution.
Causes of plastic pollution
Plastic pollution is mainly caused due the activities of human because they are the ones who manufacture plastics and use extensively in daily life. Without knowing the proper recycling and disposal methods of plastics, humans dispose the plastics in the environment just like that which in turn pollutes the environment in different ways. Some of the causes of plastic pollution in environment are
Impact of plastics on environment
Plastic has many negative effects on the life of the living organisms in the earth. Some of the environmental impacts of plastic wastes are listed below.
Throwing of plastics on the land creates an untidy environment and also pollutes the soil. The toxic substance released from the plastic wastes affects the growth of plants and trees on the land.
Rain water harvesting is one of the most commonly followed methods to increase the level of ground water. The plastic wastes dumped on landfills will interact with rain water and will form some hazardous chemicals. The chemicals formed will affect the quality of ground water and pollutes the water.
Disposal of plastics on rivers, lakes and ponds will release toxic substance and will poison the plankton living in water. If the big fishes eat that poisoned plankton, then the entire food chain will be affected and it will lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Burning of plastics introduces pollutants into air and cause air pollution. Carbon Monoxide, Dioxin, Chlorine, Nitrides, Amines, Furans, Hydrochloric acid, Benzene, Styrene, Acetaldehyde and CCl4 gets emitted when plastic is burned. The pollutants released in the air affect the ozone layer and cause global warming. When the chemicals released during the burning of plastics ascend into higher atmosphere it may cause acid rain.
Animals especially cattle eat plastic bags found on the road side. Plastic materials are not digestible by the stomach and it may lead to stomach upsets. Sometimes the components present in plastic bag releases chemical toxins during digestion process and causes poisoning.
Fishing using plastic fishing nets introduces toxins into the ocean and pollutes the water. The toxins released in the water may create harm to marine life and cause loss of biodiversity.
Degradation of plastic wastes on water resources releases toxins and causes cancerous diseases. Consuming hot consumables in plastic cups and plates can lead to endocrine disruptors and hormone mimicking. Release of toxic chemicals and various types of gases during the manufacturing process can affect the environment and create health problems to human. Consumption of contaminated fishes with toxins may create serious health issues to the humans. Inhaling the smoke from burning plastics causes breathing problems.
Tips to control plastic pollution- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Plastic pollution is caused due to the human activities and it is the responsibility of humans to control the pollution and save the environment. The plastic pollution can be controlled using the following ways
Plastic pollution is a major threat to the environment. It is the responsibility of the people to save the mother earth from getting polluted. As per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report in 2014-15, 51.4 million tonnes of solid waste were generated in the country, out of which 91% was collected, and 27% was treated and remaining 73% was disposed of at dump sites in India. Improper disposal of plastic wastes will have a wide impact on the environment. Recycling of waste products, using green alternatives and proper disposal of wastes should be strictly followed to make the planet free from plastic pollution. Each and every human is responsible to conserve the environment by reducing plastic pollution. "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" the plastic wastes to conserve the environment.
A very good article with all the necessary details to understand how plastics and poly bags is contributing to pollution around us. Plastics do not degrade easily and causes various types of pollution mainly soil pollution and water pollution. I have also noticed people carrying edibles in poly bags which is very harmful for health as plastic bags are made out of different types of chemicals. When we keep food items in a poly bag then chemicals from them mix with the food items and makes it poisonous and make us sick.
Use of biodegradable alternatives like cloth bags and jute bags along with brown paper packet should be encouraged to minimize the pollution content. We should also create awareness among people about the harmful effects of plastic on our health and environment.