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Graduate in Maths, Postgraduate in English literature. Worked as a medical transcriptionist, also as a teacher.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

On plastics menace

                                                            On plastics menace


S. Muthukrishna Iyer

  •  Hi folks, I am publishing yet another article written by my Dad, Shri. S Muthukrishna Iyer titled "On Plastics menace". My dad is a retired Engineer from VSSC, Trivandrum and has published 3 books  in his name of which 2 are in Malayalam and 1 in English. He is passionate about writing on current topics and and also some grave issues that might be a threat to the coming generations. He also gives talks in various seminars about some topics, mainly on energy availability for the future generations.     Here, I would like to put in some of my words. As somebody who has been living in Bangalore for more than 5 years, I could see the changes and the awareness created on the menace of plastics. BBMP has been doing a laudable job in making public aware on the dangers of using plastic items. As they say, the change begins at home and truly many societies make sure that the bio-degradable and non-degradable waste (like plastics) are segregated in each home for the easy management of waste. Many of the plastic items are recycled. BBMP has issued a ban on the usage of plastics in at least many of the shops and establishments and the usage of plastics has come down a bit, even though there is a long way to go. The days of carrying one's own bags to the shops and packing things in the old papers look to be making a come back. If each family cares about the environment that they/we live in like own home, controlling the use of plastic becomes much easier.               Deepa.

1.0 Introduction

Plastics in their innumerable forms invaded our lives only in the recent past. Their percolation into most areas has brought in conveniences in trading commodities of varied nature. At the same time, our immature/dismal approach to issues related to limiting their use only to essential areas and the collection/disposal of used ones, are posing serious challenges to environment. Collection and disposal of used plastic items has been a very serious issue of the present times, which provide sleepless nights to some of those looking after it.  This article looks at the related aspects.

2.0 Discussion

Q: What are the reasons for plastics sneaking into most areas of our day to day living?

A: The basic reason is that we manufacture them in large varieties and huge quantities and dump into market.  Moreover, we see conveniences in using them.

Q: When and how did we begin to use plastics?

A: Before plastics were available just a few decades ago, milk was sold in 500 ml and 250 ml glass bottles. When delivering to customers, it was mandatory that bottles of respective measures were exchanged. The revolutionary type of change in milk supply took place on availability of plastic sheets and packaging systems suitable for handling liquids in a fail safe manner. Milk being a commodity traded both in the mornings and afternoons of every day, milk supply area was immensely benefitted out of packaging in plastic covers. The changeover from thick glass bottles to plastic covers directly brought down its cost of transportation by around 200%.

At the same time, provisions in as harvested/their value added forms, oil and meat adopted ways and means of packaging and presenting them in shelves largely using plastics. Soon, most promoted self service culture, wherein, buyer picked pre – packed items and presented for billing. Gradually, plastics in one form or another sneaked in to most areas related to our day to day living.

Perhaps we are responsible for not limiting plastics to essential areas. Those avoidable include:

  • Providing thin plastic carry bags while selling a small quantity of even one item of vegetable/fruit/flower/others even without buyer asking for it. Previously, such items were sold in news paper/note book sheet wrappings or plantain/lotus/vatta and other types of leaves. My own personal experience of recent times is a pointer. When I was at a nearby bakery, I saw its owner and a small lad arguing on the need or otherwise of a plastic carry bag for an item sold. The lad was insisting that he needs a carry bag for a packet of ‘MILMA sambharam’ priced Rs 7. The owner was pleading that she cannot afford a free carry bag for it.
  • Super markets provide rolls of thin plastic covers for separating items for billing. Paper bags would have been an appropriate choice for packing some of these.
  • Restaurants changed the system of packing Tiffin items from leaves to plastic sheets/covers. They could have restricted it for liquids only.
  • Providing thin plastic liners to invitation cards/business catalogs made of paper for tear proofing, could have been avoided.
  • Discarding the system of serving drinking water in steel glass/paper cups for feasts, instead, serving in 200 ml plastic bottles, and thereafter, throwing them away after single use. The customer is billed for it, subsequently, the responsibility for disposing falls on the local self governing body.
  • Spreading thin plastic sheet on table for serving feast at gatherings and the same is discarded after single use. Until recently, paper rolls were used for the same.
  • Packing items using plastic covers, when paper/clothe covers might be adequate as is the case with most textile goods.

Q: What makes plastics the most sought after packing material?

A: Many qualities make plastics the ‘emperor of packing materials’. The first and foremost is that the same is water proof. Next, plastics are amenable for rolling down to as thin as ‘kannithol’; (very thin skin of jackfruit seed). Plastics are flexible/light weight/easy to manufacture/transport/ tear resistant/available at low price, also widely distributed.

Q: How did the usage of plastics turn into a menace?

A: The wide spread use of plastics became a threat to our environment, since, we who boast ourselves as educated, intelligent as well as modern, handled it in the same manner as depicted by the age old saying, “flower garland in the hands of a monkey”. The skin of jack fruit seed, ‘kannithol’; is so thin that it could choke our food pipe; also, a bunch of human hair can choke drains. The same is also the case with ultra thin plastic carry bag; it clogs drains. Non – degradability of most plastics makes disposal difficult. Having the waste disposal systems of Trivandrum city been dismantled few years ago, many bundle their waste in plastic covers thick/thin and throw them into way side/canals/open drains.

Q: There had been bans previously too. How about them?

A: We proposed ‘flex ban’ some time ago. Discussions took place for a month; in the end we backtracked. One prime reason was the extensiveness of flex industry which had grown exponentially in the recent past, loss of job, bank loans turning into bad debt, and others. There was ban on plastics too; however, the situation returned to original condition in few months.

3.0 Conclusions

Q: How can we address issues related to plastics menace?

A: (1) Move away from use of plastic wrappers/covers/bottles in non – essential areas.
(2)   Look at my own practice of keeping carry bags. Whenever, a vendor wraps items even using news paper sheets, I show him my bag. This one change, if implemented by many, could bring down the use of plastics substantially.
(3)   Use re - usable cloth bags. I would like to recall a practice of yesteryears wherein, generally, Brahmin males carried LG asafoetida bags on errant and thereby, they got branded too.   
(4)   Nowadays, I get freshly milked milk, cooking oils and certain others at my door step. Here, fluids are transferred from vendor’s carboys to our bottles. Since no packing is involved in such buys, no waste disposal related issues too. Extending the above door delivery concept to ‘provisions in general’ could enable us to get rid of packing them in transparent covers and display in shelves. NOWADAYS, WE HAVE NET MARKETING SYSTEMS, WHEREIN, ITEMS ORDERED ARE BROUGHT TO ONE’S DOOR STEP PRE– PACKED, MOSTLY USING PLASTICS. ON PRIOR INDICATION, IF LOCAL PROVISION STORE CAN BRING ITEMS TO DOOR STEP AND TRANSFER ITEMS DIRECTLY TO ONE’S OWN CONTAINERS, WE AVOID LARGE QUANTUM OF PLASTICS HERE TOO.
(5)   Avoid buying provisions pre– packed in plastic covers. Buy them in paper wrappings to the maximum extent possible.   
(6)   Have discipline to wash used plastics and dispose to vendors periodically. Do not throw them around on way side.
(7)   Ensuring the use bio degradable wrappings to the maximum extent possible need become part of our culture; and therefore, pay close attention to the same


                                                               -The End-