The Pandemic of Plastic

Aparna Chatterjee

Since the beginning of life on the planet, living organisms have come from their single cellular to multi-cellular structure. After billions of years, life has evolved with the highest level of intelligence and better cerebral utilization. Humans are considered to be the supreme most creature on the planet, and hence, we humans have taken the fate of the planet earth into our hands.

Adapt- Survive- Evolve or perish has been the harshest truth of life. Many species did perish due to unfavorable habitats. Some perished due to natural calamities, and competition from predators. Earth has witnessed five mass extinctions so far. This extinction period ranges from thousand to millions of years, and we, being the superior species, have managed to accelerate this process. Human nature to invade and exploit have put our planet in dire situations. If we continue at the same rate, the ecosystems as we know will collapse beyond the point of repair. Just to give an idea of how bad the situation is, let’s look at the species in just the last decade.

  • Pinta Giant Tortoise.
  • Splendid Poison Frog.
  • Pyrenean Ibex.
  • Japanese River Otter.
  • Yangtze Dolphin.
  • Madagascar Hippopotamus.
  • Christmas Island Pipistrelle.
  • Alaotre Grebe.
  • Formosan Clouded Leopard.
  • Liverpool Pigeon.
  • West African Black Rhinoceros.

Eastern Mountain Lion, Northern White Rhinoceros, Spix’s Macaw, Baiji are the recent most additions.

In numbers, we have lost billions of animals and a million more species of flora and fauna are on the verge of extinction all because of human activities. 

We have been taught about how human activities and encroachment on natural habitats have been driving species to extinction in our schools. We have studied how pollution affects the ecosystems at a global level, how plastic pollution is depleting the capacity of our natural resources. Even after such ‘proactive’ education, we failed our planet, and instead, we are driving it to worse conditions. It is almost, as if we using public transportation, cutting down electricity and water wastage, consciously using plastic did not do much as per our anticipation. So, let’s dive into a few groundbreaking reasons that we kinda knew, but still didn’t know what the reality is.       

Plastic Pollution:

After years of identification of the causes of pollution, we haven’t come up with an effective way to reduce them significantly. Untreated sewage and factory wastes are still being dumped in clean water reservoirs. Conditions of Indian rivers and lakes are not hidden either. It’s almost as if the previous generation wants to push the problems further while staying in denial of the current situation. Out of all the types of pollution, Plastic pollution is the giant which needs to be dealt with in immediate remediation.

Countries all across the globe have tried banning single-use plastics, plastic bags, plastic straws, Styrofoam goods so on and so forth. However, the production of the same has not stopped. If governments of these countries have banned it, how come it is still being produced. As there is no way that these plastics can be reused or recycled, they stay dumped in landfills and ocean beds. If your bathtub has been overflowing filling your bathroom up, will you start mopping the floor or turning off the tap?

While plastic pollution on land is very visible- cows, dogs, birds eating or getting stuck in them and dying. We have managed to pollute the deepest portions of the sea. A deep dive into Mariana Trench showed how plastics and micro-plastics pollute the natural habitat there.   

The Great Pacific Plastic patch

A massive patch of floating plastic that got accumulated due to ocean currents right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This patch is three times bigger than France in the area. Plastic as old as that the 50’s has been freely floating there. More than 50% of this dump is constituted by fishing gears, nets, etc. and with the scale of fishing we are witnessing, this number is not going to reduce any time soon. The problem with plastic is that since it is not degradable, it breaks down into smaller and thinner pieces and inherently becomes a part of the ecosystem and food chain, polluting it on every level. Not to forget that plastic is toxic and has carcinogenic properties when consumed in large quantities. Whales and dolphins that got beached were found dead with their stomachs and intestines clogged with plastic. We have seen turtles, seals dying wrapped in plastic. And we are observing micro-plastics in fishes. Micro-plastic pollution is so bad that we find fragments of it even in the human placenta. 

Billions of animals are dying just because of plastic pollution, and this is not even the start. Even if you are not an animal-lover, on average a human consumes 50,000 pieces of micro-plastics. So we will soon reach that point as well.

Who is responsible?

You, me, everybody. But big corporations are more responsible. Coca-Cola is notorious as the biggest pollutant of the year. It is not the first time. Nestle and PepsiCo are not far behind. All of us use products from companies like Unilever, Procter, and Gamble, Mar, Colgate Palmolive- all known names, all known products. The lack of alternatives keeps us bringing back to these products. Since these companies did everything over the past years to get the masses addicted to their products, changing the system seems difficult. From bottled water to the products you use every day, is coming in a plastic bottle. How much of it are you recycling or reusing it is going to determine the gravity of plastic pollution that others have to deal with. 

None of these companies have taken any accountability or actions to reduce the pollution caused. The rich countries like the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and Australia send their waste to Asian countries like Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. These waste barrels are shipped from the west to Asia while adding to the carbon footprint of the damage caused. That is equivalent to you binge eating ice cream while suffering from Type-2 Diabetes. While Malaysia did send their waste shipment back, Vietnam has declared that they won’t accept any more waste shipments for ‘recycling’. China has banned almost all waste imports to stop the smuggling of non-recyclable waste. Other Asian countries are also in a queue to refrain from being the dumping ground for the rich. After years of pressure, the Rich countries have agreed to try to cut down their plastic waste. While we have more than 60 countries that banned plastic bags, the tap of the water has surely not turned down.

With the pandemic has been the hot issue of the year, the disposal of masks, PPE kits is still under a question mark. We are already observing animals tied up the masks and suffocating on the plastic. It is not only us who are gasping for air. The pandemic has given us a valuable lesson of the survival of the fittest and reminded us that we, the superior species are not on the top of the food chain. The plastic pandemic is not going down shortly, it seems!

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