What are Single-Use Plastics?
- Single-use plastics, or disposable plastics, are used only once before they are thrown away or recycled.
- The single-use plastic products also prevent the spread of infection. Instruments such as syringes, applicators, drug tests, bandages and wraps are often made to be disposable.
- These items are things like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, soda and water bottles and most food packaging.
- Petroleum-based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean.
- Also, single-use plastic products have been enlisted in the fight against food waste, keeping food and water fresher for longer and reducing the potential for contamination.
- However, there can be challenges when it comes to disposing of some single-use products.
- In the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply.
- The ultimate goal is that all these products can be collected and converted into energy or recycled.
India Ban Of Single Use Plastics
- The Union government in a bid to free India of single-use plastics by 2022, has laid out a multi-ministerial plan to discourage the use of single-use plastics across the country.
- The nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets is set to begin from October 2 to eliminate single-use plastics from cities and villages that rank among the world’s most polluted.
- The ban will be comprehensive and will cover every sector from manufacturing to the usage and import of such items.
- The Nodal Ministry for the scheme is the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) ensured with the task of:
- Enforcing the ban on single-use plastics, &
- Finalizing the pending policy for Extended Producer Responsibility (a policy approach under which producers are given a significant responsibility financially and/or physically for the treatment or disposal of post-consumer products) for milk products.
Environmental Effects Of Single Use Plastic
- Due to their light weight and balloon-shaped design, plastic bags are easily blown in the air, eventually ending up on land and in the ocean.
- While it is still unclear, some studies suggest that plastic bags and Styrofoam containers can take up to thousands of years to decompose, contaminating soil and water, and posing significant ingestion, choking and entanglement hazards to wildlife on land and in the ocean.
- Plastic bags can choke waterways and exacerbate natural disasters.
- In 1988, poor drainage resulting from plastic bag litter clogging drains contributed to devastating floods in Bangladesh, causing several deaths as two-thirds of the country was submerged
Government Measures In Place
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme was introduced in the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2011, and was largely redefined in PWM 2016, wherein producers, importers and brand owners were asked to take primary responsibility for collection of used multi-layered plastic sachets or pouches or packaging.
- There is no mechanism to implement Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme. Even if the government chooses to ban certain plastics, there is a big question mark on how effective it will be.
- Plastic is cheap and convenient, and as long as there is demand for it, people are going to manufacture it.
- The cigarette butt is the most commonly found litter on beaches and in rivers and lakes. A global coastal clean-up drive in 2018 found 5.7 million of them.
- Unlike urban local bodies, gram panchayats may not have the resources to do routine checks on plastic use. Maharashtra is among the 23 states that have fully or partially banned plastic bags, but that has not stopped people from using them.
Alternative To Plastic
- Bioplastics: Made from algae, waste agricultural and food residues, using bacteria or mushrooms as micro-converter
- Some bioplastics like PHAs (polyhydroxyalkanoates) are soil- and marine-safe — that is, they safely degrade in the environment within weeks or months, leaving no harmful residues.
- Water dispensers & ‘water ATMs’: They can replace packaged plastic bottled water in most locations.
- Finally, where single-use plastic cannot be avoided, a plethora of technologies can help recover and sort the waste. Examples are smart bins, sorting machines, reverse vending machines and smart packaging technologies that make it easier to separate different materials.
How To Get Rid Of The Plastic Menace?
- Leading a grassroots movement to support the adoption of a global framework to regulate plastic pollution.
- Educating, mobilising and activating citizens across the globe to demand that governments and corporations control and clean up plastic pollution.
- Educating people worldwide to take personal responsibility for plastic pollution by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.
- Promoting local government regulatory and other efforts to tackle plastic pollution.
- Education and responsibility are only one side of the coin, however; the other side is infrastructure. The technology to create a circular economy by means of recycling does in fact exist, but the infrastructure needed to fully implement it is seriously lacking. Of all the plastic waste produced in the world, less than 10% is recovered due in large part to the lack of infrastructure both at home and abroad.
Conventions Related To Plastic Waste
- Basel convention: Controlling transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal
- The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 (MARPOL): MARPOL specifically prohibits the discharge of plastics from ships.
- The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972 (London Convention) and its 1996 Protocol (the London Protocol): With the aim of preventing marine pollution from the dumping of wastes and other matter, the London Protocol further prohibits the dumping and incineration at seas of wastes, including plastics
- Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants: With the potential to regulate the production, use, and disposal of additives used in the manufacture of plastics, to the extent they are persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
International Efforts To Ban Single Use Plastic
- About 112 countries, states and cities around the world have already imposed bans on various single-use plastic goods. Of these measures, 57 are national and 25 are in Africa. And the list of these restrictions continues to grow.
- Most of these bans target thin single-use plastic carrier bags or imports of non-biodegradable bags. Some, such as the one in Antigua-Barbuda, include other single-use or problematic items, such as foam coolers and plastic utensils. A few — notably, Kenya’s plastic bag law — impose stiff punishments on violators, including jail time and fines of up to $38,000.