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 structures. After billions of years, life has evolved with the highest level of intelligence and better cerebral utilization. Humans are considered the supreme creatures 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 expire due to unfavorable habitats. Some died due to natural calamities and competition from predators. Earth has witnessed five mass extinctions so far. This extinction period ranges from thousands to millions of years, and we, the superior species, have accelerated this process. Human nature to invade and exploit has put our planet in dire situations. If we continue at the same rate, the ecosystems we know will collapse beyond the point of repair. Let’s look at the species in the last decade to understand how bad the situation is.

  • 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.

Recent additions include Eastern Mountain Lion, Northern White Rhinoceros, Spix’s Macaw, and Baiji.

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

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

Plastic Pollution:

After years of identifying pollution causes, we haven’t found an effective way to reduce them significantly. Untreated sewage and factory wastes are still being dumped in clean water reservoirs. The 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 that 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, and so on. However, the production of the same has not stopped. If governments of these countries have banned it, why is it 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 fills your bathroom, will you start mopping the floor or turning off the tap?

While plastic pollution on land is evident, cows, dogs, and birds eat or get stuck in them and die. We have managed to pollute the deepest portions of the sea. A deep dive into Mariana Trench showed how plastics and microplastics pollute the natural habitat.   

The Great Pacific Plastic patch

A massive patch of floating plastic accumulated due to ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean. This patch is three times bigger than France in the area. Plastic as old as the 50s has been freely floating there. Fishing gears, nets, etc., constitute more than 50% of this dump, and with the scale of fishing we are witnessing, this number will not soon reduce. 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 and seals dying wrapped in plastic. And we are observing microplastics in fish. Micro-plastic pollution is so harmful that we find fragments even in the human placenta. 

Billions of animals are dying because of plastic pollution, which is not even the start. Even if you are not an animal lover, a human consumes 50,000 microplastics. 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 most significant pollutant of the year. It is not the first time. Nestle and PepsiCo are not far behind. We all use products from Unilever, Procter and Gamble, Mar, and Colgate Palmolive- all known names and products. The lack of alternatives keeps us bringing back these products. Changing the system seems complicated since these companies did everything to get the masses addicted to their products over the past years. From bottled water to the products you use daily, it comes in plastic bottles. How much you recycle or reuse will 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. Wealthy countries like the US, Canada, the 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 binge eating ice cream while suffering from Type-2 Diabetes. While Malaysia returned its waste shipment, Vietnam declared it wouldn’t accept more waste shipments for ‘recycling.’ China has banned almost all waste imports, stopping 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, Rich countries have agreed to try to cut down on plastic waste. While more than 60 countries banned plastic bags, the water tap has undoubtedly not been turned down.

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

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