Are plastics eco-friendly?
In general, all man made products,during manufacture,
processing and disposal,have an impact on the environment.
The issue therefore is,which of these products under consideration ,will impose the least burden on the environment,and contribute to what is termed-"sustainable development".
As you read on the haze created by the media,might clear to reveal the genuine role of plastics in the environment. This is best expressed in the following Quotation:
"There is a perpetual danger of thinking you can find out the truth merely by being clever.he truth is that you have to work doggely at the facts"(Dr.Ronald Broadbent in the New Scientist-July'73).
Are plastics hazardous when buried in land-fills?
Plastic waste is pre-dominantly eco-neutral or inert. It does not generate toxic leachates which contaminate the soil or the ground water resources. On the contrary, those products which do biodegrade with by-products, may result in contaminating ground water resources.
Plastic consumer waste is easily compactible,and occupies less space in land-fills.the fact that plastic waste is inert and does not biodegrade,makes segregation and recycling a more logical approach to waste management, for urban areas.
The famous study on excavation of New York's land-fills by the University of Arizona,U.S.A.,reveals that food items,such as beef-stakes,corn-on-cob,news pappers-things which you might expect to biodegrade in afew years, are in recognisable from after 30 years.This is because,anaerobic biodegradation(in the absence of air and sunlight) is an exteremely slow process. This process also generates methane gas from landfills-which for its"greenhouse"effect is worst than carbon dioxide.
Are plastics responsible for utilising a major share of the world's oil or hydrocarbon resources?
It is important to recognise that plastics use less than 4%
of the world's hydrocarbon resources.Approximately 90% is consumed for transportation,power generation and heating.
In general plastic products require less energy than products made from conventional materials,at compareable use and performance levels.
Are plastics toxic when used in contact with foods and medicines?
Plastics are used world –over because they are safe for packaging of foods, medicines and child care products. Few examples are- milk pouches , edible oil container ,ice-cream packs , blister packs for tablets and capsules.
I.V. fluids and blood is collected and stored in plastic bags.
While plastics are safe for packaging of food and medicinal products, there are standards in each country which specify the type of Additives and pigments, which can be used safely for contact with foods.
Do plastic grocery bags block drains during the rains?
Plastic grocery bags are lighter(less dense)than water;hence,they float.This is why they accumulate on the beaches when disposed indiscriminately.In the case of a vertical grill in the drainage system, the water will flow through the grill with the plastic bags floating on the surface.In the case of a horiziantal grill such as the one found on the roadside, the bags will be displased by flowing water. By applying this logic, it is difficult to understand how plastic grocery bags are responsible for blocking drains .Perhaps, someone should carefully observe and determine what is the real problem.
Do plastics make-up a large part of the Municipal solid waste?
A study conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute,Nagpur for the BMC,puts the figure at 0.75%.
Even in Europe and U.S.A.,with per capita consumption of plastics at over 50kgs per annum(India is 2.7kgs per annum),plastic waste makes up 8% of the total municipal solid waste.The rest is made of organic materials(33%)paper &board(30%)glass and metal(16%)and others(13%).
Plastics make a significant contribution by reducing the weight and volume of materials that are typically thrown away.Unfortunately in India waste is littered ,insted of deing disposed ,to facilitate collection and recycling.
Do plastics meet the criteria of resource conservation; do we get "more for less" while using plastic packaging?
Let us take the example of the humble plastic grocery bag, which has been denigrated so extensively in the media. A stack of 2000 plastic grocery bags will be seven-and-half INCHES high; a stack of 2000 paper grocery bags will have a height of seven-and-half FEET. Imagine what this means in terms of transportation, and the increase in exhaust emissions.
A study conducted by the "German Society For Research in the Packaging Market", shows that if plastics packaging were replaced with other materials, the weight and volume of disposables would increase by a factor of 4 and 2.5 respectively, along with twice the level of energy consumption and double the cost of packaging.
Another good example is the transport of mineral water in lightweight PET bottles. A truck can carry 60% more water with 80% less packaging , as compared to glass bottles; this results in fuel saving of almost 40%.
The ratio of product weight packed to the weight of package is the highest for plastics packaging; for example 500gms of coffee can be packed in a glass jar weighing 500gms,or a tin plate container weighing 130gms,oa a plastic laminated pouch weighing only 12gms. Still better, one kg of salt is packed in a pouch weighing 5gms where the ratio of product weight to package weight is 200:1. These are some examples of getting "more for less" through plastics packaging.
Does the burning of plastic generate toxic fumes?
To a large extent, post-consumer waste is made up of grocery or polyethylene bags. The chemical structure of polyethylene is made up only by carbon & hydrogen atoms. Anyone, who has done elementary chemistry will know that burning a carbon hydrogen molecular chain will generate carbon-dioxide and water vapour.
A product made from PVC, when burnt in an open fire will emit hydrogen chloride fumes which are pungent. In fact this property has a significant advantage in retarding propagation of a flame when used as a sheath in power cables. Normally a PVC product or a post consumer pack is extremely rare, in Municipal solid waste.
The toxic fumes which the public wrongly believe are generated from plastics, are the result of burning materials contained in the bag, to get rid of industrial wastes.
How do we judge whether plastics are eco-friendly in relation to other materials?
Plastindia Foundation's Enviroplast Committee,developed a model or criteria,which may be used for qulaifing materials as eco-friendly.The material or product in question should:
a)improve the quality of life,particularly of the economically weaker sections of society.
b)reduce significantly the pollution load on the environment-land,water and air-in relation to materials that are replaced or substituted.
c)use the non-renewable energy resources more efficiently.
d)contribute to the preservation of land,water resources and forests.
e)lend itself to recycling and/or recovery of a significant part of the inherent energy.
Normally the tendency is to judge a product or item in terms of its waste disposal problem.This is like saying that an iceberg is as it appears above the surface.
Every process connected with a product right from the time that basic raw materials are extracted from the earth to the time a product is produced,transported,used and disposed,has some impact on the environment.A comparative study of products or applications based on measurements of energy-input and the pollution discharged to land,water and air, at every stage,is called a Life Cycle Analysis(L.C.A)-
or more simply"the cradle to grave" approach.
Should we change over from plastic to paper bags?
A decision should be made after considering these facts.
The wide spread belief that substitution of plastics with paper is more favourable to the environment,is not supported by facts and a L.C.A.
The manufactue of paper bags requires two-and-half times the energy as compared to plastic bags of the same size and for comparable performance.
The manufacture of paper produces significiantly higher air pollutants. There is a huge disparity in waste water discharge in manufacture or recycling of paper.
As far as biodegradability is concerned,the University of Arizona study shows that newspaper s burried in 1952 in land-fills and excavated in 1989, were legible.The same obsevation was made with telephone directories.
Some will argue that paper comes from trees which is a renewable resource; while plastic is manufactured from oil,which cannot be replaced. The argument against this is,that forest play an important role in protecting our soil bank and maintaining the gaseous balance in the atmosphere, by absorbing carbon dioxide and in turn releasing oxygen. In our hunger for wood,44 million hectares of forest have been felled since independence,
making this country a land with one of the lowest areas under forest cover(area under forest to total land area).Therefore, as far as India is concerned land is not a renewable resource.
What about the role of plastics improving the quality of life?
According to a UNICEF report, in our Country an estimated 2500 children die every day of diarrheoal diseases, caused by polluted drinking water and lack of sanitation. Those who survive continue to suffer from water borne diseases and the country loses a staggering 1800 million man- hours per year.
The target, the country has set for itself, provides one safe source of drinking water per village. Such a difficult task would be impossible to achieve without the use of PVC pipe
Which is economical, light, easy to transport and install, but more significantly, uses 88% less energy in terms of “oil equivalent” in its production and use, for comparable performance with GI pipes.
The growth of personal products in the rural areas has increased dramatically. The growth of shampoos in bottles is at a level of arpprox.2% year-on-year for, whereas the growth is around 30% year-on-year for shampoos in flexible packs of 5 to 8ml capacity. The combination of low cost flexible packaging and the small pack size makes a product affordable to much lager section of the community and there by promotes hygiene and personal care.
What has the plastic industry done to address critical environmental issues?
The Indian Centre for Plastics in Environment (ICPE) which has now been formed, has a fairly long history in its making, reviewing briefly in the following paragraphs.
Ice’s Mission Statement will shortly be formally announced; its purpose will be to make plastics a preferred material in an environmentally conscious world. There are many applications for which plastics are the most efficient, functional and cost effective choice; also there are few applications for which plastics are the only choice, for example in consumer packaging. That is why it is important for ICPE to work to address the environment related concerns that can undermine plastics, its cost performance advantages, so that the community at large benefits from this wonderful and versatile material.
In 1995,the President and the managing committee of Plastindia Foundation had the vision to forsee that environmental issues will become a matter of serious concern for the industry. The Enviroplast Committee of Plastindia Foundation was formed there after to address and respond to the environmental issues with the government and media.
The Enviroplast Committee diligently at gathering facts, research papers and valuable information on plastics in relation to the environment .The Committee then put together a presentation to inform the media and the government about the issues and facts, the myths and realities on plastic and environment. Several seminars (one in conjunction with FICCI) were held through out India, apart from several press conferences.
The Enviroplast Committee made a major contribution in the deliberation on the Report of the National Plastic Waste Management Task Force, headed by the Chairman of Central Pollution Control Board. The Task Force report provided plastics packaging waste management strategies relevant for India; guidelines for recycling of plastics and finally a proposal for establishing an Indian Center for Plastic in the Environment. The Enviroplast Committee also worked closely with the Central Pollution Control Board (Ministry of Environment and Forests) in drafting a Notification on thickness limitations for vest type bags( Jabla Bags).
The ICPE is the newly constituted autonomous national body set up by stakeholders from the Indian Plastics Industry; the promoters are the Chemicals and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association and the Plastindia Foundation. It has an independent Governing Council and Management Committee of eminent members in the industry, the Government,Research Institutions and Academicians.
The ICPE will work on all aspects of long-term plans and issues concerning plastics, plastic waste recycling and environment. It will address issues on communication, education, technology upgradation in plastic waste recycling and help improve plastics waste management in India. It will actively interact with the media, ministries and government departments, civic authorities, the NGO’s, the Educational Institutions, Societies and various industry associations connected with plastics.
Who should take responsibility of plastics environmental issue?
We all share the responsibility of plastics environmental issues. Any issue, which concerns the community, has to be resolved with the co-operation of all involved; it is a “shared responsibility”. Those involved are Government, Municipalities, the raw material manufacturers, the converters, the food and personal product manufacturers, the retailers, and consumers.
Because domestic waste is a mixture of materials of which plastic is only a small component, under 2% by weight, it is the responsibility of the government to manage waste and to regulate its disposal.
It’s the responsibility raw material and packaging manufacturers to come up with the most cost efficient solutions, which will preserve and protect goods, minimize the use of energy and reduce the weight and volume of waste. Food and personal product manufacturers, retailers and consumers need to be aware of the benefits of plastics packaging and the need to dispose plastics in a manner which leads to increasing emphasis on recycling .
Everyone must understand that the environmental legacy we leave behind for future generations will depend on our resolve to:
REDUCE - REUSE - RECYCLE
And finally let us agree that:
PLASTICS DO NOT LITTER, PEOPLE DO