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What a waste: Plastic menace and management

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There is a global emergency to mitigate the plastic pandemic and reduce the associated health hazards. Nations are adopting a more green and eco-friendly approach to attain sustainability and ecological balance. As a result of the broad range of possible actions to curtail single-use plastics and their mixed impact, UN Environment has developed a 10-step roadmap for governments looking to adopt similar measures to improve plastic management.

Plastic goods are now an integral part of regular life globally. It is produced on a massive scale worldwide, and its production crosses 150 million Tonnes annually. Its broad application is in packaging films, wrapping materials, shopping and garbage bags, fluid containers, items of clothing, toys, household materials, industrial products, building materials, etc. Eventually, plastic material can never be degraded and will remain on the landscape for several years, making it even more detrimental.

Environmental impacts of plastic waste

Environmental issues related to the disposal of Plastic Waste are increasing day by day. Indiscriminate littering, unskilled recycling or reprocessing, and non-biodegradability of plastic waste material raise the following ecological problems: 

  1. During the polymerization process, toxic emissions are often released. 
  2. Various types of gases are removed during product manufacturing. 
  3. Unsystematic dumping of plastic trash on land makes the land infertile and compromised due to its barrier properties.
  4. Burning generates toxic emissions such as Carbon Monoxide, Chlorine, Hydrochloric Acid, Dioxin, Furans, Amines, Nitrides, Styrene, and Benzene 1, 3- butadiene, CCl4, and Acetaldehyde. 
  5. Lead and Cadmium pigments, commonly used in LDPE, HDPE, and PP as additives, are toxic and are known to leach out. 
  6. Non-recyclable plastic wastes, such as multilayer materials, metalized pouches, and other thermoset plastic, pose disposal problems. 
  7. Sub-standard plastic carry bags, packaging films

Plastic in the Food chain

Plastic pollution piling up on the landfills or coastlines contribute to climate change and impacts vulnerable communities. Plastic waste is piling up everywhere, and recycling is the only solution. Either first-hand or recycled, plastic waste is often exported from developed countries to developing countries to process/recycle. The sheer amount of plastic waste inundates humankind as neighborhoods are drowning under thousands of tons of plastic trash. In 2015, Scientists from the University of Georgia estimated that approximately 12.7 million metric tons of plastic per year are released into Oceans. These poisonous chemicals used to produce plastic gets transmitted to animal tissue and finally enter the human food chain. For example, birds usually confuse shreds of plastic waste for food and eat the poisonous debris. Furthermore, aquatic animals consume tons of plastic annually, ultimately transferring it up the food chain pyramid.

Banned Plastic Items: There is a list of plastic material that has been banned worldwide,  for example, Plastic Sticks, Ear-buds, Balloons, Candy, Ice-cream cps, Cutlery Items (Plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, Glass, Forks, Spoons, Trays, Packaging, Wrapping Films, Sweet boxes, Invitation cards, Cigarette Packets, PVC banners, and Polystyrene for decoration.

The solution: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Recovery

There is a global emergency to mitigate the plastic pandemic and reduce the associated health hazards. Nations are adopting a more green and eco-friendly approach to attain sustainability and ecological balance. A circular economy is a unique model with a strategy for production and consumption, which involves sharing, reusing, repairing, leasing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. This concept aims to eliminate waste from recycling processes and throughout the lifecycles of products and packaging. A circular economy seeks to maximize the value of products and eliminate waste by improving the overall design of products, materials, and business models. The main goal is not just to design for better end-of-life recovery but to minimize using raw materials and energy through a therapeutic system.

Ten-step Roadmap for Governments for reducing the plastic waste menace

As a result of the broad range of possible actions to curtail single-use plastics and their mixed impact, UN Environment has developed a 10-step roadmap for governments looking to adopt similar measures to improve plastic management. The devised ten steps are based on the experiences of 60 countries around the globe: 

1. Targeting the most problematic plastics products

2. Devising the best actions to tackle the problem (e.g., through regulatory, economic, awareness, and voluntary activities)

3. Evaluate the potential social, economic, and environmental impacts 

4. Identify and engage key stakeholder groups, i.e., retailers, consumers, industry representatives, local government, manufacturers, civil society, environmental groups, and tourism associations 

5. Raising public awareness about the harm caused by plastic waste

6. Promoting alternatives. Before banning or charging taxing comes into force, the availability of other options needs to be assessed; hence the government should promote alternatives to plastic. 

7. Providing incentives to industry by introducing tax rebates or other conditions to support its transition. 

8. Enforce the measure chosen effectively by ensuring a transparent distribution of roles and responsibilities.

10. Monitoring and adjusting the desired measure if necessary and updating the public on progress.

Considering the growing plastic usage and the associated environmental challenges, reduction in the use of plastic and waste management is critical for socio-economic sustainability.

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