||Are Plastics eco-friendly?
||In General all man-made products, during
manufacture, processing and disposal, have
an impact on the environment. The issue
therefore is, which of these products under
consideration, will impose the least burden
on the environment, and contribute to what
is termed - 'sustainable development'.
As you read on, the haze created by the
media might clear to reveal the genuine
role of plastics in the environment. This
is best expressed in the following quotation:
"There is a perpetual danger of
thinking you can find out the truth merely
by being clever.The truth is thatyou have
to work doggedly at the facts" (Dr.
Ronald Broadbent in the New Scientist -
||How do we judge whether plastics are
eco-friendly in relation to other materials?
Plastindia Foundation's Enviroplast
Committee, developed a model or criteria,
which may be used forqualifying materials
as eco-friendly. The material or product
in question should:
(a) Improve the qualify of life, particularly
of the economically weaker sections of
(b) Reduce signaficantly the pollution
load on the environment - and water and
air in relation to materials that are
replaced or substituted.
(c) Use the non-renewable energy resources
(d) Contribute to the presevation of land,
water resources and forests.
(e) Lend itself to recycling and/or recovery
of a significant part of the inherent
Normally the tendency is to judge a product
or item in terms of its waste disposal
problem. This islikesaying that an ice-berge
is as big as it appears above the surface.
Every process connected with a product,
right from the time that basic raw materials
are extracted from theearth to the time
a product is produced, transported, used
and disposed, has some impact on the environment.
A comparative study of products or applications
based on measurements of energy-input
and the pollution discharged to land,
water and air, at every stage, is called
a Life Cycle Analysis (L.C.A.) - or more
simply 'the cradle to grave' approach.
||Are plastics responsible for utilising
a major share of the world's oil or hydrocarbon
It is important to recognise that plastics
use less than 4% of the world's hydrocarbon
resources. Approximately 90% is consumed
for transportation, power generation and
In general plastic products require less
energy than products made from conventional
materials, at comparableuse and performance
||Do Plasticss make-up a large part of
the Municipal solid waste?
A study conducted by the National Environmental
Engineering Reasearch Institute, Nagpur
for the BMC, putsthe figure at 0.75%.
Even in Europe and U.S.A., with per capita
consumption of plastics at over 50 kgs per
annum (India is 2.7 kgsper annum), plastic
waste makes up 8% of the total muncipal
solid waste. The rest is made up of organic
materials (33%), paper & board (30%),
glass and metals (16%) and others (13%).
Plastics make a significant contribution
by reducing the weight and volume of materials
that are typically thrownaway. Unfortunately
in India, waste is littered, instead of
being disposed to facilitate collection
||Do Plastic grocery bags block drains
during the rains?
||Unlikely.Plastic grocery bags are lighter
(less dense) than water; hence, they float.
This is why they accumulate on the beaches
when disposed indiscriminately. In the case
of a vertical grill in the drainage system,
the water will flowthrough the grill with
the plastic bags floating on the surface.
In the case of a horizontal grill such as
the one found on the roadside, the bags
will be displaced by flowing water. By applying
this logic, it is difficult to understand
how plastic grocery bags are responsible
for blocking drains. Perhaps, someone should
carefullyobserve and determine what is the
||Are plastics toxic when used in contact
with foods and medicines?
Plastics are used world-over because they
are safe for packaging of foods, medicines
and child care products. A few examples
are - milk pouches, edible oil container,
ice-cream packs, blister packs for tablets
and capsules.I.V.fluids and blood is collected
and stored in plastic bags.
While plastics are safe for packaging of
food and medicinal products, there are standards
in each country,which specify the type of
Additives and Pigments, which can be used
safely for contact with foods.
||Are plastics hazardous when buried
Plastic waste is pre-dominantly eco-neutral
or inert. It does not generate toxic leachates
which contaminate the soil or ground water
resources. On the contrary, those products
which do biodegrade with by-products,may
result in contaminating ground water resources.
Plastic consumer waste is easily compactible,
and occupies less space inland-fills.
The fact that plastic waste is inert and
does not biodegrade, makes segregation and
recycling a more logical approach to waste
managment, for urban areas.
The famous study on excavation of New York's
land-fills by the University of Arizona,
U.S.A., reveals that fooditems, such as
beef-stakes, corn-on-cob, news papers -
things which you might expect to biodegrade
in a fewyears, are in recognisable form
after 30 years. This is because, anaerobic
biodegradation (in the absence of airand
sun-light) is an extremely slow process.
This process also generates methane gas
from land-fills - which for its "green-house"
effect is worse than carbon dioxide.