A number of steps are taken by the corporate sector to limit the use of plastic. It is the responsibility of every citizen to follow the steps and inculcate a behavioural change to stop the use of plastic.
Plastic has universally become the most used material in a modern economy. While it has its own benefits, it would be apt to look upon how it affects the environment as also the economy. The use of plastic is so deeply ingrained in our everyday life that we sometimes don’t realise that a particular product has plastic elements in it, like the microbeads in our face washes. What began as a utility support to our society has now become a global menace and is endangering the entire ecosystem of our planet.
Take for example, the garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. Did you know that this is the largest offshore plastic accumulation zone in the world? Almost eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. At this rate, this garbage patch will only increase in size. In its current state, it already measures 1.6 million square kilometers in dimension, which is approximately the area of five largest Indian States put together (Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh). We can only imagine how this disturbs and endangers marine life. The hazards of using plastic largely outweighs its use. Around 90 per cent of the popular bottled water brands contain tiny pieces of plastic. When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA and phthalates may leak into the food and disrupt the endocrine system. Not only is plastic hazardous for humans, it is also detrimental to the living of plants and animals as well.
The world recycles just about 14 percent of the plastic it uses. If we simply start reusing or recycling plastic, it will go a long way in curbing plastic pollution. Better still, if we consciously take measures to stop using plastic altogether, there will be some hope to save this planet. Each one of us should practise and advocate the use of cloth bags instead of plastic bags, participate in beach and river clean-up drives and other such activities. To explain this further, let’s try and understand the life cycle of plastic generation and the ultimate end of it, which results in a global menace. Plastic production surged to 311 million tonnes in 2014 and is expected to double in the next 20 years. Plastic consumption has been increasing all over the world but India alone has consumed 33.5k tonnes of plastic during the period 2017-18. There has been 650 per capita consumption of plastic bags which along with food containers and plastic bottles, makes for almost 59 per cent of the total plastic waste.
After a short first-use cycle, 95 percent of plastic packaging material value, or $80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. A staggering 32 percent of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, generating significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems, such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure. The cost of such after-use externalities for plastic packaging, plus the cost associated with greenhouse gas emissions from its production, is conservatively estimated at $40 billion annually — exceeding the plastic packaging industry’s profit pool.
There are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the ocean today which will affect almost 8,000 companies. Now the question that crops up is how do we break this cycle and what can the corporate sector do to save the economy and the people from this ubiquitous threat? As we speak about this, there are numerous companies which have already taken up the challenge and have decided to limit their plastic usage. Some examples are as follows:
PepsiCo, India, will pilot the first-ever plant-based, 100 per cent compostable packaging for products in India.
Nestle reduced its packaging material weight by approximately 1,532 tonnes by ensuring eco-friendly design.
Infosys has committed to reduce the per capita generation of plastic waste by 50 per cent.
Hilton group has vowed to eliminate plastic straws across its managed hotels in Asia Pacific by end of this year.
Since this is just the beginning in solving a huge problem, corporate India will have to put in more efforts to combat plastic pollution by focusing on the three Rs — Reduce, Re-use and Recycle — to create a more sustainable environment. Plastic has several essential uses but the fact remains that we have become over reliant on single-use. Beat plastic pollution, which is the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call for action to everyone to join hands and do their bit to combat this greatest environmental challenge.
The rule is simple: If you can’t reuse it, refuse it. There are so many small things that we can do, like restrict the use of plastic straws, carry our own set of cutleries, bring in our own coffee mugs, flasks, carry cloth bags, shopping baskets and so on. In short, we all have to become a strong crusader of ‘Reuse or Refuse’. Advocate passionately one-on-one or through the digital platforms, appealing your circle of influence to do their bit towards this cause. We also have to lead by example. All of us need to come together and raise our voices against the use of plastic. Together, we can surely put an end to this global threat and strive for a better future.
(The writer is Chancellor, Ajeenkya DY Patil University)
Writer: Ajeenkya DY Patil
Courtesy: The Pioneer