• Wednesday, Aug 04, 2021
  • Last Update : 10:44 pm

OP-ED: Plastic is not fantastic

  • Published at 02:04 am June 22nd, 2021
Plastic-pandemic-Covid-19-trashed-the-recycling-dream
FILE PHOTO: Reuters

Exploring alternatives to plastic is more important than ever

It is quite impossible to circumvent the usage of plastic products in this modern age. As you are reading this, you may be looking at your smartphone or laptop which consists of plastic materials. 

But it is ominous for life below the water and life on the land. Dumping plastic in the sea jeopardizes the life of marine species while excavation will destroy the soil and burning it will cause air pollution. So it is high time to reduce the usage and think about an alternative. 

Plastics are usually polymers of high molecular weight. In addition, it may contain other substances to improve performance and reduce costs. Commonly, they are derived from petrochemicals. This may be varied to several kinds. However, the important point to note is that most of them are non-biodegradable -- the decomposition may take 1000 years or more. 

The fact is, most of our modern daily accessories are made of plastic but due to its non-biodegradable nature, it is creating a threat to our nature. After using the plastic goods, they are thrown away, ending up either in landfills or the ocean, causing untold damage. 

Covid-19 has also added a new dimension to this problem. A large number of masks, PPE, and other various safety equipment have been used to protect ourselves from the virus. But these are non-biodegradable as well. Thus, if they are not recycled properly, they shall only add to harming our planet. Thus, if we cannot find a way to reuse them, we should stop using them to protect our Earth. 

Due to excessive dumping of plastic in the Bay of Bengal, Saint Martin Island is at risk of being submerged. The government has already talked about limiting the entry of tourists to this beautiful island. The Covid-19 crisis has taken this threat to a new level. Due to the lack of proper policy adoption,  the necessary equipment to protect against Covid are dumped randomly. No measures have also been taken to identify and to recycle these goods.

According to research, 13,000 tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day. It comprises 8% of the total waste generated every year. In Dhaka, around 14 million pieces of polythene bags are used every day. Around 73,000 tonnes of plastic waste end up in the sea every day through the Padma, Jamuna, and Meghna rivers. 

Only in Old Dhaka, around 250 tonnes of non-recyclable products, such as straws and plastic cutlery, are sold every month. The growth in bio-waste production is 5.2% while that in plastic waste is 7.5%. 

Thus, we need to start working to reach a sustainable solution from now on. We need to design an appropriate model which will create a positive impact in the next few years.

One of the challenges is the usage of single-use plastic goods. Every moment, thousands of water bottles are being bought for a single use. In addition, soft drinks, coffee, chips, biscuits, etc packets are also used only once. Almost half of the plastics produced are designed to be used once and then thrown away. 

We need to recognize the necessity recycling products. Flasks may replace water bottles. Plastic-made goods should be used for a certain amount of  time and then safely deposited into a defined place where they can be collected for recycling. Dumping waste in the water should be stopped. Consciousness should be created among the people through campaigns. Biodegradable bags should be introduced. 

Coffee giant Starbucks has already announced that they will eliminate plastic straws by replacing them with straws made of sugarcane. Coca Cola has also introduced biodegradable bottles. These types of activities will surely create awareness among the masses. 

A new motion has emerged in India that plastics can be used as an element of construction. Since some types of plastics cannot be recycled, we need to amalgamate them and in a certain way this can be used as an alternative for bricks in construction. Once, jute was known as the golden fibre of Bangladesh but these days, its production has decreased due to its pricing. Nevertheless, this is the time to bring the production back. 

Research and innovation is also mandatory to develop the replacement of plastic. 

We need to carry fibre bags instead of polythene. Laws should be imposed properly. Innovators should be encouraged to contribute in this sector. Disposal of medical equipment needs to be taken into consideration more seriously.

Although we are yet to find a proper replacement, still we should try to reduce the usage of plastic as much as we can. Hopefully, an eco-friendly, biodegradable alternative will be invented soon to free us from this labyrinth.

Shafin Saif is a freelance contributor.

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