In a plastics world {Environment}

Why in news?

Plastics are now widely present in the environment, as visible waste along coastlines, in lakes and rivers, and even in the soil. The recent finding that microplastic particles are found even in ‘safe’ bottled water indicates the magnitude of the crisis.

Plastic wastes released into the environment

Microplastics are particles of less than 5 mm that enter the environment either as primary industrial products, such as those used in scrubbers and cosmetics, or via urban waste water and broken-down elements of articles discarded by consumers. Washing of clothes releases synthetic microfibres into water bodies and the sea.

The health impact of the presence of polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate and other chemicals in drinking water, food and even inhaled air may not yet be clear, but indisputably these are contaminants.

Effects of Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution has so many negative effects on human, plant, and marine life as well as other living organisms. Here are some of them:

1. Affects Human life and Health: Plastics are mainly made from petrochemicals. It, therefore, goes without saying that they are not good for human health and can cause problems in different ways. When plastics degrade in water sources, they release toxins that can cause poising or cancerous diseases. Several health practitioners have cautioned against using plastics, especially when handling hot consumables. Plastic pollution can cause diseases that are very costly to treat and difficult to manage. Children can also ingest plastic materials that have been carelessly disposed of and this can result in choking or even death. Plastic bottles can sometimes trap water and provide ideal breeding places for germs and mosquitoes. This can result in several health problems for people that live near such places.

2. Degrades Quality of Land and Affects Agriculture: Plastic papers strewn all over the place are an eyesore. They make the surrounding appear untidy and unpleasant. When they break down, they release chemicals into the ground that make land unproductive and unconducive for plant growth. They can also make the area unsuitable for habitation by microorganisms. Plastic pollution, therefore, affects agriculture by degrading the quality of soil and, in turn, affects the balance that is required for an ecosystem to thrive.

3. Poses Threat To Animal Health: Cattle are very notorious when it comes to eating plastic bags. Since these materials are not digestible by the stomach, they can cause stomach upsets and poisoning due to the chemicals released from the components of plastic. This is what happens when we fail to dispose of plastics properly and scatter them all over the place. Unlike humans, animals can eat anything, the issue of whether it’s edible or not notwithstanding.

4. Disrupts Marine life: Aquatic life is also not spared when it comes to the effects of plastic pollution. Commercial fishing where plastic nets are used introduce toxins into the ocean and pollute the water. This is harmful to the marine life. Organisms that live in water can also ingest plastic materials and die because of the toxins contained in them. This would cause the loss of biodiversity and upset the ecosystem due to the interdependence of the different inhabitants.

5. Air Pollution: Burning plastics causes air pollution. That’s because this action introduces pollutants into the atmosphere through smoke and debris. When inhaled, the smoke from burning plastics can cause breathing complications. The pollutants can also affect the ozone layer and contribute to global warming. Since plastics are mainly composed of petrochemicals, burning them can also cause acid rain as the chemicals released ascend into the higher atmosphere.

6. Blocks The Drainage System: Yes, plastics are a nuisance when it comes to having a free-flowing drainage system. They can cause blockage and prevent the flow of waste material. When this happens, the air can be polluted due to the bad smell of decomposing materials. It would also cause a host of bacterial diseases. Unblocking a drainage system is not that easy. You will have to part with some money when the problem hits home just to get the system working properly again. It’s much worse when it’s on a larger scale because that would require the relevant authorities to come up with a proper plan to find a solution. This could take time. Blocked drainage systems are also very risky during the rainy season. They inhibit the easy flow and drainage of rain water. This can cause flooding, especially in urban centers.

7. Loss of Tourism: Tourists are mainly people who just want to have a good time and gain new experiences. Nobody wants to travel to a foreign place just to interact with dirty environments and probably contract infections and diseases. Plastics around seashores make the beaches unsightly and unattractive to tourists. This can lead to a fall in the number of them that visit a place and subsequently loss of income for the locals. Dirty tourists’ places basically kill tourism.

Preventive and Control Measures

The number one instigator of pollution has always been mankind. Our actions introduce plastics into the ecosystem and cause pollution. That means that we can also be proactive and enforce preventive and control measures so that we do not have to deal with the bad effects. What then can we do so that we avoid the negative effects of plastic pollution? Here are some of the preventive and control measures that can help reduce this menace:

1. Find Alternatives to Plastics: We can reduce plastic pollution by using alternatives to plastics. People can actually stop using plastic bags and disposable utensils. Instead of going to the retail store and having your purchases packaged in plastic bags, you can choose to carry your own bag that is large enough and reusable. The business community can also play a vital role by using other alternatives to plastics when packaging goods. Using bags made of paper is a smart way to reduce plastic pollution. When we stop using plastics and find alternatives, we reduce the risk of pollution and make the environment cleaner. It’s all about everyone being proactive enough to do what needs to be done to conserve the environment.

2. Making use of Reusable Water Bottles: Using disposable water bottles is a major cause of plastic pollution. They are thrown away after use and that just adds dirt in the ecosystem because more bottles will have to be manufactured. An ideal thing to do would be to make use of reusable water bottles. When the water in the container has been used up, it is taken to the respective company for a refill. In this way, less number of plastics are manufactured and the environment is conserved. There shouldn’t be much debate around this because using these types of bottles also saves you a lot of money as opposed to buying new ones from the store. With one move, you conserve the environment and reduce your monthly expenses. That is a really smart way to live.

3. Proper Waste Disposal: We looked at one of the main causes of plastic pollution as lack of proper waste disposal methods. People just throwing around plastic materials without much thought about the consequences of their actions. To stop this from happening, we can adopt proper waste disposal methods. Individuals should strive to dispose of plastic materials only in designated areas like dustbins. This prevents several problems like drainage blockage and air pollution. Cultivating a culture of being responsible goes a long way in reducing the effects of pollution.

4. Recycling: Garbage processing is actually one of the best ways to ensure that unnecessary waste materials are not loaded into the environment. Instead of throwing away plastic bottles, we can collect them and give them to companies that engage in the recycling of plastics. At home, people can have separate bins for collecting wastes. One of those can be dedicated to the collection of waste products for recycling. Companies can also offer incentives by paying for these types of garbage so that people are motivated to give them out for recycling.

5. Government Policies: Every business person’s major concern is to make profits. What happens is that companies manufacture very thin plastic bags that tear easily because they are low cost and are bought in bulk. This is the type of business that gives them high profits. The government can play its role by banning the manufacture of such plastic bags and putting in place policies that promote a clean environment. Thick bags that do not tear easily are expensive and that will encourage people to reuse them. Companies can be compelled to adhere to certain standards failure to which there would be penalties. This would also lead to retail stores opting for alternative packaging methods like papers. Policies to encourage the recycling of wastes and cleaning of the environment can also be helpful.

6. Community Education: Knowledge is power. A person is more likely to conserve the environment when he or she is made aware of the dangers of not doing so. Educating people about the effects of plastic pollution and ways in which it can be prevented or controlled is a step in the right direction because it raises awareness. This can be done by community-based organizations or government agencies tasked with environmental conservation. Another way in which this can be achieved is by running ads in the media or campaigns that aim at sensitizing people about the benefits of conserving the environment. At the family level, parents and their children can educate one another about plastic pollution. They can then do what is necessary to prevent or control it.

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