by N.S. Venkataraman 16 January 2019
In recent years, around the world, the vigorous and noisy anti-plastic campaign by the so-called environmentalists and activists to stop using plastics for short term and long term need have been gaining strength, backed by the media campaign.
The campaign against plastics has now virtually descended to a hate plastic campaign, making innocent people think that the use of plastic in any form for any application is terrible and against public health and environmental interests. While such is the intensive global campaign against plastics, the negative impact of such a campaign amongst the public who do not have adequate technological understanding of various related matters is severe. In India, the hate campaign against plastics had assumed a complexion similar to the campaign against untouchability when historically some castes were discriminated.
The government of India has pledged to eliminate single-use plastics in India by 2022, and for setting such target, India has won global acclaim for it’s “Beat Plastic Pollution Resolve” declared on world Environmental Day last year. So far, around 22 states and Union territories in India have joined the anti-plastic campaign by announcing the ban on single-use plastics such as carry bags, cups, plates, cutlery, straws, and
When the title of the world anti-plastic campaign was termed as “Beat Plastic Pollution” resolve, the campaign was virtually launched against all sort of plastics for any use, which made it be an unrealistic, counterproductive and negative campaign.
While launching the full-fledged anti-plastic campaign, neither the central and the state governments in India nor the environmentalists and activists have cared to make any distinction between various types of plastics that are subjected to different users and applications. This has given an impression to the common man that the use of plastics in any form for any application should be rejected and producers of plastic goods are viewed as polluters by some section of the people.
Millions of tonne of a different category of plastic are being used around the world for various applications. Such plastics include polyethylene, polypropylene, polyacetal, and many others. They are used for multiple applications including in construction activities, pipelines and fittings, packaging, electronics and telecommunication .agriculture, medical diagnostics, and several others, Plastic is now playing an integral and inevitable part in many economic and industrial activities, and this has to be recognized by the anti-plastic campaigners. The question is whether it would be possible to eliminate the use of all types of plastics in all kinds of applications. This is technologically and economically unfeasible.
The primary campaign against plastics centers around the fact that plastic is nonbiodegradable. The anti-plastic campaigners gleefully carry out propaganda that if one kept a plastic product, it would remain in the same shape even after one thousand years. However, the ground reality is that nonbiodegradability as such need not be considered a negative aspect, as in several applications the permanent use of a material is a positive factor.
It is further said that plastic has been seen in the dung of elephants, in the stomach of the cows which eat them, etc. It is also noted that thousands of tonne of plastics are dumped and seen in the oceans and reservoirs as waste product permanently floating around. The electronic waste materials and plastic products used as packaging material etc. are also seen dumped everywhere. There are also allegations that plastic products are carcinogenic when incinerated. But, the question is why should the used plastics be dumped or burnt.
While the dumped plastics as waste material are a problem, it needs to be thought about whether the ban on single-use plastics will relieve the waste plastic burden to any significant extent. While single-use plastic is sought to be banned or restricted around the world in single-use application such as carry bags, plastics are used in several packaging products such as packaging of food, cosmetics, groceries, industrial goods, etc. which would continue to be used for long time to come, due to the absence of equally efficient and convenient substitute material.
Around the world, many research efforts have been initiated to develop and produce biopolymers such as polylactic acid, starch blended polymer, etc. to make the plastics biodegradable. However, the technology development efforts are still largely in the formative stage and commercially available biodegradable products inadequate measure and quantity to replace conventional plastics with equal efficacy, and utility value is unlikely to be available in the near future. The cost of production of such biopolymers is also a vital issue, as higher production cost would make it difficult for biopolymer to compete with the conventional plastics.
The anti-plastic campaign deploring the use of plastic entirely is not appropriate. It is high time that the anti-plastic campaign should be tempered and reformed to make a distinction between the plastics of different types for use in various applications.
The campaign against the single-use plastics and regulatory measures which have just been started in India and several countries
The anti-plastic campaign is being carried out without alternate concrete plans. It is doubtful that while several state governments in India have banned single-use plastics, whether any systematic study has been carried out to assess the availability of substitute products. The entire strategy and plans to ban the use of plastics is being carried out in a vacuum.
The problem is not due to the use of plastics but the lack of facility to recycle and reuse plastics after it’s utility is over. While some baby steps have been taken to recycle plastics in an isolated way in small capacity plants, a pragmatic worldwide campaign on a massive scale to recycle used plastics is yet to be launched.
Until suitable alternate strategies and measures are worked out and well implemented to develop a biodegradable substitute for plastics and recycle the used plastics, the anti-plastic campaign is likely to remain as a matter of academic interest and exciting issue and topic for the media and environmentalists and activists.