How do Plastics affect Our Daily Life?


Context: Today in the age of plastics, when we go to the grocer, vegetable vendor and markets to buy stuff, we all use plastic bags. Traders use plastic bags and bottles for their products and even water. 


When did the age of plastics start? 

  • It was in 1907 that the Belgian scientist Leo Baekeland synthesised the first plastic using formaldehyde and phenol, called it Bakelite, mass produced it and marketed it. This was the dawn of the plastics age. 
  • Some of the early products that became 20th century icons were the camera, telephone and radio
  • Today almost everything is made of plastics - water bottles, straws, plastic cutlery, polythene bags, baby products, laptops, cell phones, drones and aircrafts. Even Chandrayan used materials made of a combination of metals, glass and plastic in its voyage.


Impact of plastic age in the world

  • The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) points out that every day, the equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans, rivers, and lakes
  • Plastic pollution is a global problem. Every year, 19-23 million tonnes of plastic waste leaks into aquatic ecosystems, polluting lakes, rivers and seas. 
  • Plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes, reducing ecosystems’ ability to adapt to climate change, directly affecting millions of people’s livelihoods, food production capabilities and social well-being.
  • The UNEP points out that the environmental, social, economic and health risks of plastics need to be assessed alongside other environmental stressors, like climate change. 
  • Very little of the plastics we discard every day is recycled or incinerated in waste-to-energy facilities. 
  • Much of it ends in the soil and the sea
  • The greenhouse gases emitted by plastics affect the global temperature, costing over 300 billion dollars annually.


Way Forward

O Bhongade and R Bhargava from the IIST Indore, write in the journal International Journal of Research and Applied Sceinces, Engineering and Technology (2019) that since disposal of postconsumer plastics is increasingly being constrained by legislation and escalating costs, we need alternatives to disposal or land filling

  • These processes can be done in order to overcome the shortage of commercial fuel and the problem of plastic waste.
    • Recycling of plastics is a method for production of the vital resource of liquid and gaseous fuels
    • Thermal and catalytic degradation, and gasification are alternative methods for recycling of plastic waste to produce fuel having properties similar to commercial fuels. 
  • Given that we cannot but use plastic material every day, what are the various precautions and positive steps that we can take in our everyday lives? 
    • One is not to discard plastic bottles and bags after use, but reuse them
    • The second is to use more and more glass and steel products.


Imp for: UPSC Prelims, UPSC GS Mains Paper III

Topic: Environmental Degradation, Plastic Pollution, Marine Pollution



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