World Environment Day 2018

Date: 5th June 2018

Host Country: India

Theme: The theme for 2018 is beating plastic pollution.

 

IMPACT OF PLASTIC ON THE ENVIRONMENT

What is plastic?

Plastic refers to any material consisting of a wide range of synthetic (man-made) or semi-synthetic organic compounds (i.e. compounds that contain carbon)  that are malleable and so can be molded into solid objects.

Types of plastic

Every individual interacts with different types of plastic multiple times daily. This is because plastic is quite versatile and affordable hence can be used for different purposes. Below are some of the types of plastic we interact with on a daily basis:

  • Polyamides(PA) or (nylons) –  used in making toothbrush bristles, fishing lines, airbags, food packaging films,, ropes, stockings etc.
  • Polycarbonate(PC) – used in making eyeglasses, bullet proof glass, traffic lights, lenses, cycle helmets etc.
  • Polyester(PES) – used in making fibers, textiles and carpets etc.
  • Polyethylene(PE) – used in making supermarket bags and plastic bottles. Below are types of polythene:
  • High-density polyethylene(HDPE) – used in making detergent bottles, milk jugs and molded plastic cases etc.
  • Low-density polyethylene(LDPE) – used in making outdoor furniture, floor tiles, shower curtains and clamshell packaging etc.
  • Polyethylene terephthalate(PET) – used in making carbonated drinks bottles, peanut butter jars, and plastic film and microwavable packaging etc.
  • Polypropylene(PP) – used in making bottle caps, drinking straws, yogurt containers, appliances, car bumpers and plastic pressure pipe systems
  • Polystyrene(PS) – used in making food containers, plastic tableware, disposable cups, plates, cutlery, compact-disc (CD) and cassette boxes etc.
  • Polyurethanes(PU) – used in making cushioning foams, thermal insulation foams, surface coatings and printing rollers: currently the sixth or seventh most commonly-used plastic.
  • Polyvinyl chloride(PVC) – used in making  plumbing pipes and guttering, shower curtains, window frames and flooring etc.
  • Polyvinylidene chloride(PVDC) – used in food packaging, cloth cleaning; in making shower curtains and garden furniture etc.
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene(ABS) – used in making electronic equipment cases (e.g. computer monitors, printers, keyboards) and drainage pipe etc.
    • Polycarbonate/Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (PC/ABS) – a blend of PC and ABS that creates a stronger plastic used in car interior and exterior parts, and mobile phone bodies
    • Polyethylene/Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (PE/ABS) – a slippery blend of PE and ABS used in low-duty dry bearings (i.e. a simple and convenient type of lubrication).

Effects of polythene plastic on the environment

Polythene is by far the most commonly used type of plastic. While it is affordable and convenient to use, standard polyethylene bags don’t biodegrade but rather they photodegrade. Once exposed to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, polyethylene’s polymer chains become brittle and start to crack. This process could easily take between 500 and 1000 years to complete meaning polythene bags will outlive us and their continuous use will have devastating effects on our environment. A more worrying thought is that bottles made with Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) will never biodegrade.

Below are effects of polythene on the environment:

  • Landfill waste – Research shows that it takes polythene bags over 500 years to photo degrade while PET bottles do not biodegrade. This facilitates landfill which is quite the eyesore. 
  • Unhealthy Livelihoods –Plastic landfills have created unsafe sources of livelihood for the poor who collect recyclables from the dumping sites. Middlemen buy recyclables sort, clean and process them before selling to scrap dealers who sell it on. It’s these middlemen and scrap dealers who often earn large profits while the poor in the garbage sites are the ones at risk of catching diseases as a result of cuts by broken bottles, nails or syringes as well as exposure to toxic waste.
  • Chemical Leaching –Reusing a plastic water bottle several times before throwing it out can cause invisible scratches and cracks in the flimsy plastic can cause harmful chemicals from the plastic to leach into your drink. The chemical leaching is further facilitated by using plastic water bottles to store hot drinks or to even warm the drinks.
  • Health concerns –Research has found that toxic chemicals in plastic interact with water and leach into the ground which pollutes groundwater reservoirs and consequently harming wildlife and people.
  • Clogged and blocked drainage –With the rainy season being upon us, this quite evident in and out of the city. Plastic bottles and bags have clogged and even completely blocked most of our drainage systems hence the flooding.
  • Ingestion by animals that mistake them for food –This is especially common in cities where there is not enough grass for the animals to eat. Ingestion of polythene by animals could easily lead to death whereby the animal dies as a result of organ failure. This is caused by excessive accumulation of plastic in the stomach. Research indicates that prolonged ingestion of polythene and plastic by-products causes endocrine disruption in cows. In addition, it leads to the failure of other digestive organs and blockage of intestine.
  • Greenhouse gases –Greenhouse gases refer to a group of compounds that trap heat (long wave radiation) in the atmosphere hence keeping the earth’s surface warmer than it should be. Increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere results in the greenhouse effect which causes global warming and consequently climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions are considered a either direct emissions, that is, caused by combustion of fuel at the plastics processing facilities or indirect emissions, which occur as a result of fossil-fuel combustion necessary to generate the electricity used by the plastics processing facilities.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jaisankar, C. (2017, February 12th). Plastic waste clogs city canals and open drains. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Tiruchirapalli/Plastic-waste-clogs-city-canals-and-open-drains/article17292675.ece

Natural Resources Canada. 3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Plastics Processing Industry. Retrieved from https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/industry/technical-info/benchmarking/plastics/5211

ntepa.  Environmental Impacts. Retrieved from https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/waste-pollution/plastic-bag-ban/environmental-impacts

Pow, Hellen. (2014, May 23rd). One man’s trash is another’s livelihood: The Kenyan dumping ground scoured by thousands for anything that might help them make a living. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2637210/One-mans-trash-anothers-livelihood-The-Kenyan-dumping-ground-scoured-thousands-help-make-living.html

 Shriji, P. B. (2015, May 5th).  Help Your Mother- Prernamurti Bharti Shriji. Retrieved from https://prernamurti.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/

TNN. (2017, June 4th). 1,000 cows die every year in Lucknow after eating polythene. Retrieved from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/1000-cows-die-every-year-in-lucknow-after-eating-polythene/articleshow/58981173.cms

Watson, R. (2015, January 30th). Meet the kids scavenging on rubbish dumps to survive. Retrieved from https://www.actionaid.org.uk/blog/news/2015/01/30/meet-the-kids-scavenging-on-rubbish-dumps-to-survive

What’s your impact? What are greenhouse gases? Retrieved from https://whatsyourimpact.org/greenhouse-gases