In December 2015, we were given 2 bins and 1 bag to each house in our apartment by The Karnataka State Government.
Thanvi: Amma what is this?
Me : Household waste is dirty, smelly and dangerous. Housekeeping aunty and waste collectors cannot separate huge piles of waste generated by the entire apartment. This is a system used to segregate the waste.
TS: Why should we segregate?
DN: The earth can eat up and digest any plant-based waste. But is it very hard for it to digest other materials like plastics, the Earth will get diarrhoea. So we should not tie our plant-based waste in a plastic cover and throw it away.
Next day morning. It is Thanvi’s chore to keep the dustbin outside daily.
TS: What will housekeeping aunty do with the waste?
DN: Two government trucks will come. One to pick up wet waste(biodegradable) and another for dry waste(non-biodegradable) from our apartment.
TS: Where will the trucks go?
DN: Wet waste will be dumped in an open area in the outskirts of the city and plastic waste will go the recycling plant. At the recycling plant – plastic, paper, metal and other materials will be sorted and melted to make another usable product.
TS(This is her favourite question regardless of any topic): Where does the plastic come from?.
DN(Boastful Engineering student): Plastic is made from a chemical called, Polyethylene PET.
TS: Where does PET come from?
DN (OMG !! clueless and ashamed Mommy): Sorry, I don’t know, I will learn and let you know about it, tomorrow.
Having learnt chemistry for 10 years, why didn’t I ever think of this. Sorry, many of you might have known, but I admit I was ignorant and it was embarrassing.
I sat down to research about this and I couldn’t sleep for the next three days. The facts are so cruel and suffocating.
Plastic is mostly made out of oil. Oil dug from the earth.
Around 8% of the oil that is dug, is used to make plastic.
Almost all the wars in the 20th century were for oil, directly or indirectly.
50% of the household plastics that we use are one use items (disposables).
India generates 5.6 million metric tons of plastic waste annually.
Plastic accounts for around 10% of the total waste we generate.
Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. More than one million bags are used every minute.
It takes 500 to 1000 years for plastic to degrade.
Virtually every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some or the other form (with the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated).
BPA is a chemical, used to make plastics. Some research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages.
Exposure to BPA affects the brain, prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children, alter the immune system function, early puberty in girls, fertility problems, decreased sperm count, prostate and breast cancer, diabetes and obesity.
An increase in heat and storage time is directly proportional to the increase in the migration of BPA into food.
Migration also increases when plastic touches fatty, salty or acidic foods.
Virtually all food packaging materials contain substances that can migrate into the food they contact.
There is nothing called food safe plastic.
Developed countries dump their waste in developing and under developed countries. Simply because shipping their municipal waste to countries like India is about four times cheaper than recycling it in their own land.
The ministry of environment, forests & climate change, banned the import of all used plastic or PET bottles scrap by recycling plants in India only in Aug 2015 and asked these units to and from now on, rely on similar waste generated within the country.
Recyclers are interested in imported waste, as there is no clear flow of scrap/raw material from consumption point to recycling unit in our country. They import about 70% to 80% of plastic scraps.
The food industry uses most of the disposable(one use) plastics and they demand only virgin plastic.
What about Recycling the plastic?
Plastics are of various types PETE HDPE LDPE PVC PP PS etc
This is indicated by a triangle with a number at the bottom of each plastic item.
All kinds of plastics are not recyclable. Those recyclable are not recycled properly.
We currently recycle only 5% of the total plastic produced.
Recycling is costlier than we imagine.
Recycling business is not profitable, as it takes up a lot of time and money in collecting, transporting, sorting, cleaning and processing. The rates of recycled plastics are not worthy of all this process.
It is four times cheaper to produce products from virgin plastic products than from recycled plastics.
So what happens to the unrecycled plastic ?
Collected Municipal waste is dumped in a designated open area called Landfills. When not segregated, plastics and other toxins in batteries, napkins, electrical, electronics, cleaning supplies etc., gets drenched in rainwater and eventually leach into underground water and soil. This makes water and land unsafe for drinking and cultivation.
Uncollected trash is blown away by the wind and then washed away by rain into the stream, then a river and then finally the ocean. This trash gets accumulated in a region on the ocean due to ocean gyre (system of the air current in relation with earth’s rotation). Making a massive garbage soup of about 15,000,000 square kilometres or more in size (Size of India is 3,287,263 sq.kms). There are about five garbage patches on Earth.
70% of this trash sinks into the ocean. Sea animals mistake these trash to be food. Making them too full and causing them starve to death. These animals are eaten by other sea animals and they finally get into our food chain.
So what should we do?
Plastic is an ingenious material. It has become indispensable in our lives and impossible to live absolute plastic free. But we can try to live a disposable(one use) plastic free life . Just because it’s available at a low cost, we are exploiting it. Usage of plastics in our households can be highly reduced.
1. Minimize the usage. Buy only if it’s highly necessary. Before buying see for another alternative(biodegradable) options. If it’s not available in the store. Please request. Only when there is demand, there will be a supply.
2. Segregate. If the segregation and collection process is not effective in your city/town/village, you be the change that you want to see in your society. All lines start with a dot.
3. Discard ethically. Either give it someone who will use the product the right way and to the fullest or recycle it methodically.
In the coming weeks(alternate Tuesdays), you will get to read how I minimise, segregate and discard waste.
After a few days
DN: Narrated the whole story in a way that she could understand
TS: Why is plastic cheap?
It called for another research and needs another blog post to explain. In short, Oil is the second major natural resources that we use after water. Oil is dug for a lot of purposes. Plastic is made from the byproducts of those processes. Low material and process cost are the reasons for plastic being cheap.
This how we question, explore, learn and change.
Question the world around you.