War Against PlasticsIn the context of the impending ‘full’ plastic ban by the BBMP in Bangalore citylimits, it is worth having a fresh look at this mammoth problem — its origin,growth over the years, administrative approach to the issue and the likely futurescenario in our cities. Why is plastic considered the villain in the management ofhealth of modern cities and how effective is the fight against plastics?The beginningThe origin of plastic can be traced to the U.S around the 1860s. A product calledcasein was invented in 1897. Cellulose acetate, a thermo plastic, was developed in1927. The commercial development of today’s thermoplastics came about in the1930s and 1940s.The demand for plastics rose during World War II owing to shortage of rubber.Efforts to produce synthetic rubber lead to chemistry of polymer formation andfinally plastic materials. Subsequent development of polypropylene paved theway for widespread use of the present plastics in many applications.Low density polyethylene was introduced around 1980 at a low cost. Plastic, thus,edged out wood, paper, glass, metals and leather. Introduction of alloys andblends of polymers increased the demand for plastics.Environment hazardPlastic is widely used in the modern medical field, transport and communicationand even in the aircraft industry. It has become a part of everyday life of thecommon man. One can notice a plastic bag with almost everyone in the streets,offices, airports, cinemas, hospitals and even in the State Assemblies and inParliament. Bags made from thin, flexible polythene film have became popularamong shoppers as carry bags, grocery bags etc.‘Single use’ bags became the main trash all over the world, mainly in undevelopedand developing countries. Once used, these bags are thrown away. Some arecollected through various sources and recycled. Litter from plastic bags andsimilar products is the major environmental pollutant in our cities. The demandfor banning plastic products, especially bags, has been raised increasingly byenvironmentalists and ‘green city’ enthusiasts. They have been advocating a totalban on the use of plastics. The last decade has increasingly witnessed the ‘ban’approach, whereas, the recent ‘regulation’ approach is found more rational. Ablanket ban would prove to be difficult to enforce.The latest exampleOut of many cities with a ‘regulatory’ approach, the most recent is Quezon city inthe Philippines, where this law has become effective from September 1. Many
other cities have also enforced similar regulations, e.g., Los Angeles during 2011,Corvallis city in Oregon, U.S., a couple of years ago and Botswana in Africa lastyear. It is too early to evaluate the results of the regulatory implementationprocess in these cities. The global production of plastic items has risen to almost400 million tonnes every year. Most of the manufacturers are taking steps forincreased recycling.The machinery for enforcing a ban is going to be very expensive. As against this, aregulatory approach will have the cooperation of manufacturers, traders, users,field-level administrators etc.Steps to Reduction 1. Start using your own reusable bags. 2. Have plastic bags at home? Reuse or recycle them! 3. Count how many plastic bags are brought into your household during one week. When we see the waste for ourselves and know how using reusable bags can make a difference in just one household. 4. Spread the word by refusing to accept plastic bags from cashiers and store owners. It only takes a second to refuse a plastic bag, and to politely remind the cashier (and anyone else in line) that plastic bags are bad for the environment.And its a problem facing countries across the world: each year, an estimated 500 billionto 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide, which is about over one million aminute and most of them end up in the dustbin in a few minutes.