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PLASTIC PROBLEMS

Plastic at your peril

The environmental and health costs of plastic.

BY OUR PHARMA CORRESPONDENT


April 21, 2007: The next time you do the shopping and carry home the things in a cute, comfy plastic carry-bag, think: you are contributing your share to a deadly pollution whose ill-effects are irreversible and capable of reaching out to numerous generations to come.

Plastic is one of the major toxic pollutants of our time. Being a non-biodegradable substance, composed of toxic chemicals, plastic pollutes earth, air and water.

There is no way whatsoever you can ‘safely’ dispose of plastic waste.

Plastic causes serious damage to environment both during its production and disposal. So the only way to reduce the hazards of plastic is to reduce the use of plastic and thereby force a reduction in its production.

Plastic plays the villain right from the stage of its production. The major chemicals that go into the making of plastic are highly toxic and pose serious threat to living beings of all species on earth.

Some of the constituents of plastic such as benzene and vinyl chloride are known to cause cancer, while many others are gases and liquid hydrocarbons that vitiate earth and air. Plastic resins themselves are flammable and have contributed considerably to several accidents worldwide.

The noxious substances emitted during the production of plastic are synthetic chemicals like ethylene oxide, benzene and xylenes. Besides hitting hard the eco-system, which is already fragile, these chemicals can cause an array of maladies ranging from birth defects to cancer, damage the nervous system and the immune system and also adversely affect the blood and the kidneys. And, many of these toxic substance are emitted during recycling of plastic, too.

Like in the case of all other chemical substances, ‘disposal’ of plastic is a myth. Once plastic is produced, the harm is done once and for all. Plastic defies any kind of attempt at disposal – be it through recycling, burning, or landfilling.

When you recycle a hazard, you create a hazard. Recycling of a toxic waste merely puts the hazardous material back into the marketplace and, eventually, into the environment – thereby making no reduction in toxic use.

Since plastic does not undergo bacterial decomposition, landfilling using plastic would mean preserving the poison forever.

But can plastic be burned and thus its hazard got rid of? No way. When burned, plastic releases a host of poisonous chemicals into the air, including dioxin, the most toxic substance known to science.

Apart from these perils, recycling of plastic is very uneconomical, dirty and labour-intensive as has been reveled by a study conducted by the Public Interest Research Group, based in Dehi, India.

Recycling of plastic is associated with skin and respiratory problems, resulting from exposure to and inhalation of toxic fumes, especially hydrocarbons and residues released during the process. What is worse, the recycled plastic degrades in quality and necessitates the production of more new plastic to make the original product.

Plastic wastes clog the drains and thus hit especially urban sewage systems. The plastic wastes being dumped into rivers, streams and seas contaminate the water, soil, marine life and also the very air we breathe. Choked drains provide excellent breeding grounds for disease-causing mosquitoes besides causing flooding during the monsoons.

Any attempt to ‘get rid of’ plastic through landfills is also dangerous. Apart form toxic seepage from the landfill, resulting in the contamination of precious water sources, the waste mass impedes the flow of ground water as well and obstructs the movement of roots – thereby badly affecting the soil’s biological balance and organic processes.

Landfills are also prone to leaks. The wastes – especially cadmium and lead in the wastes – invariably mix with rain water, then seep through the ground and drain into nearby streams and lakes and other water bodies. Thus the water we use gets poisoned.

The only way out of the deadly and lasting danger of plastic is to cut down the use of plastic, if not avoid it altogether.

Say ‘no’ to plastic – whenever and wherever you can.

 

BY OUR PHARMA CORRESPONDENT

 

 

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