Dealing with plastic waste

July 18,2019

An estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the early 1950s, with 60 percent of it ending up in landfills or in open spaces. Annually eight millions tons of plastic waste ends...

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An estimated 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the early 1950s, with 60 percent of it ending up in landfills or in open spaces. Annually eight millions tons of plastic waste ends up in the oceans. As a result of this, for instance, a young whale in the Philippines died from 'gastric shock' after eating 40 kg of plastic bags, she washed ashore on March 16, 2019. This is just one of several examples of whales ingesting plastic. Images of storks wrapped in plastic bags have gone viral, as have those of turtles entangled in plastic fishing nets.

China is the top exporter of plastic goods by contributing 24.8 percent to the trade, followed by Germany which exports 12.6 percent and the US at 9.2 percent. Japan is the top exporter of plastic waste in the world followed by the US and Germany. Packaging plastic including bottles of drinks, shampoos and other toiletries; ice-cream and yogurt cups, diapers, wrappers and plastic bags constitute the major source of plastic waste.

What is going to happen if we keep producing and consuming plastic at the current rate? The first solution towards getting rid of plastic is to eliminate its production. Till then we can focus on reducing, reusing and recycling plastic waste by following some steps.

There are three types of procedures for recycling plastic waste. The primary and secondary are physical methods of plastic recycling, involving scrap processing into a product with features similar to the original product. Remolding is an example of this process; this is not for multi-layered and mixed plastic waste.

Tertiary recycling is a chemical method that involves production of basic chemicals and fuels from plastic waste using pyrolysis or hydrolysis as a process. Pyrolysis is commonly used to convert organic materials into a solid deposit containing ash and carbon, small quantities of liquid and gases. Hydrolysis is the chemical breakdown of a compound due to reaction with water. Tertiary recycling is suitable for all types of plastic waste including multi-layered plastic waste for which the first two methods of recycling are not suitable. Eighty percent of plastic waste generated these days cannot be recycled using the primary or secondary methods of recycling. Hence, the tertiary method of recycling is the only sustainable method for disposal of plastic waste. It allows us to recover the energy from plastic waste without burning the plastic waste.

Some of the best examples of recycling plastic, which can be easily followed by South Asian countries are as follows: Continental Renewable Energy based in Kenya makes roof tiles from plastic composite for affordable housing units. They have successfully recycled 1000 tons of plastic waste while creating 300 jobs since their launch in 2013.

In the Bocas Del Toro province of Panama, the Plastic Bottle Village is an eco-residential community set within 83 acres of the island. Here, a two-story house measuring 100 square meters is rebuilt with 14,000 plastic bottles utilized as insulation.

'Dare', an NGO based in the Kaduna state of Nigeria, initiated a programme where a two-bedroom bungalow is made from capped, sand-filled plastic bottles, each weighing 3 kg. Bottles are bonded together by mud and cement having the added advantage of being fireproof, bulletproof and earthquake resistant.

In Columbia, Conceptos Plásticos (Plastic Concepts) was started in 2011. The innovative local company managed to patent and build its system of bricks and pillars with recycled plastic to build up to two story thermos-acoustic and earthquake-resistant houses in five days.

There is some movement in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for banning plastic bags. But in Sindh and Balochistan, even if your child buys a candy or chocolate, it comes in a plastic bag. Our waterways, mountains, roadsides, garbage sites all glisten with plastic bags. On the home front, we continue using plastic bags, even the banned black bags are still in full vogue in smaller city markets.

Globally, there is some positive development in this regard. So far 170 countries have pledged to "significantly reduce" use of plastics by 2030 through a UN resolution. India plans to abolish all single-use plastic by 2022. The European Parliament aims to ban single-use plastic by 2021 and sets up programmes to significantly reduce containers and cups by 2028.

Two hundred and fifty organizations responsible for 20 percent of the plastic packaging produced around the world have committed to reduce waste and pollution. The initiative is called the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, and it includes a diverse group of members including top world corporations.

The writer is a development professional. Email: neetushahgmail.com


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