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Plastic – A Boon or Curse

 
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We celebrated the World Environment Day a month back.
WED, commemorated each year on 5 June, is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The day’s agenda is to:

1. Give a human face to environmental issues;
2. Empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development;
3. Promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues;
4. Advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

The theme for WED 2009 is ‘Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change’. It reflects the urgency for nations to agree on a new deal at the crucial climate convention meeting in Copenhagen some 180 days later in the year, and the links with overcoming poverty and improved management of forests.

This year’s host was Mexico which reflected the growing role of the Latin American country in the fight against climate change, including its growing participation in the carbon markets.

Plastic is one of the few new chemical materials which pose environmental problem. Polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, polystyrene is largely used in the manufacture of plastics. Synthetic polymers are easily molded into complex shapes, have high chemical resistance, and are more or less elastic. Some can be formed into fibers or thin transparent films. These properties have made them popular in many durable or disposable goods and for packaging materials. These materials have molecular weight ranging from several thousands to 1,50,000. Excessive molecular size seems to be mainly responsible for the resistance of these chemicals to bio-degradation and their persistence in soil environment for a long time.

Packaging represents the largest single sector of plastics use in the world today.

Benefits of plastics-Boon

The considerable growth in plastic use is due to the beneficial properties of plastics. These include :

a. Extreme versatility and ability to be tailored to meet very specific technical needs.
b. Lighter weight than competing materials, reducing fuel consumption during transportation.
c. Extreme durability.
d. Resistance to chemicals, water and impact.
e. Good safety and hygiene properties for food packaging.
f. Excellent thermal and electrical insulation properties.
g. Relatively inexpensive to produce.
Plastic makes up around 7% of the average household dustbin.

Plastic as a Curse

Misuse of any technology can lead to curse. Plastic was thought to be a boon but it turned out to be a curse. Plastic can be very harmful as it produces harmful gases when it is burned. As it is non bio degradable, it is harmful to the soil and takes hundreds of years to degrade or decompose. With more and more plastic products, particularly plastic packaging, being disposed of soon after their purchase, the landfill space required by plastics waste is a growing concern.

Plastic waste, such as plastic bags, often becomes litter. For example, nearly 57% of litter found on beaches in 2003 was plastic.
The waste problem is a major curse, mainly because they degrade slowly. They are difficult to recycle because of the great variety of plastics which are hardly distinguishable.

Many plastics poison the environment when degrading. PVC for example contains chlorine; generally there is no problem during use, but the chlorine returns into the environment when the waste is processed. Also, the manufacturing of plastics often creates large quantities of chemical pollutants.
Plasticizers like phthalates are suspected to cause upheaval in the hormone systems of animals and people, especially kids.

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