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Plastic pollution: An overview

Context

Scientists have created a substance capable of “eating” plastic that could help tackle the world’s pollution problem.

The substance and its advantage

The substance is based on an enzyme – a “biological catalyst”(Ideonella sakaiensis) – first produced by bacteria living in a Japanese recycling centre that researchers suggested had evolved it in order to eat plastic.

It is dubbed as PETase for its ability to break down the PET plastic.

PET is polyethylene terephthalate and is used to make drinks bottles, the enzyme accelerated a degradation process that would normally take hundreds of years

The PET plastics currently pollute large areas of land and sea worldwide.

India plastic pollution Fact sheet

  • Central Pollution Control Board has estimated the generation of 15,342 tonnes of plastic waste in the country, out of which, 9,205 tones were reported to be recycled and leaving 6,137 tones uncollected and littered.
  • More than 15,000 tones of plastic waste are generated in India every day.

 

 

Effects of plastic pollution

 

  • Plastic degrade the water quality, leading to groundwater pollution.
  • Land Pollution– Wind carries and deposits plastic from one place to another, increasing the land litter.
  • Air Pollution– Burning plastic leads to contamination of the atmosphere, due to the release of poisonous chemicals, leading to air pollution.
  • Plastics cause a serious damage to human health such as cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues.
  • Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to marine populations.
  • Many stray animals end up eating plastic bags and bottles due to improper disposal systems, and this can cause their death.
  • Recent study has found that people are swallowing hundreds of tiny particles daily from soft furnishings and synthetic fabrics that get into household dust and settle on plates.

Government initiatives

  • Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 – the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags has been increased from 40 microns to 50 microns.
  • Bio-Medical Waste Management (Amendment) Rules, 2018 – to protect the environment and human health from infectious bio-medical waste.
  • The notification which is under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has provisions to impose penalties on the violators with a prison term of up to seven years and/or a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
  • India is hosting the World Environment Day2018 (June 5), ‘Plastic Pollution” is central theme this year.
  • Swachh Bharat Mission initiatives will further help in reducing the usage of plastic.

Courts/NGT orders

  • In August 2008, the Delhi High Court directed the state government to raise the minimum thickness of plastic carry bags from20 to 40 microns.
  • National Green Tribunal passes the interim direction – to prohibit the use of plastic bags, made of plastic less than 50 microns and are noncompostable in entire NCT Delhi, for any purpose whatsoever.

Best practices

  • Domestic model –District administration of Kannur initiated a plastic-free campaign with the objective of discouraging the use of plastic carry bags and disposable items.And it become the India’s first plastic-free district
  • International model – France is the first country to pass a law banning all kinds of plastic- plates, cups, utensils to combat the problem of plastic pollution.

Way Forward

  • Awareness and education: The most effective strategy to reduce the use of plastic bags and plastic wastes is to bring about behavioral changes in people.
  • Strict monitoring is required for the ban to be effective.
  • The regulatory agencies should invite different groups and assess their problems in the implementation of the ban.
  • Alternatives to plastic bags like Cloths bag, paper bag.
  • Comprehensive waste management policy.
  • Promote the use of biodegradable plastics.
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