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Updated: August 14, 2010 23:48 IST

Plastics are forever, ill-effects too

V. S. Jayaraman
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The major chemicals that go into the making of plastic are highly toxic and pose a serious threat to living beings of all species on earth. Some of the constituents of plastic such as benzene and vinyl chloride are known to cause cancer, while many others are gases and liquid hydrocarbons that vitiate earth and air. Plastic resins themselves are flammable and have contributed to several accidents worldwide.

The noxious substances emitted during the production of plastic are synthetic chemicals such as ethylene oxide, benzene and xylenes. Besides hitting hard the eco-system, which is already fragile, these chemicals can cause an array of problems ranging from birth defects to cancer and damage the nervous and immune systems. And, many of these toxic substances are also emitted during the recycling of plastic.

Disposal of plastic is a myth. Once it is produced, the harm is done once and for all. Plastic defies all kinds of attempt at disposal — be it through recycling, burning, or landfilling. Plastic bags are non-biodegradable, as they do not get decomposed even after many years.

Once plastic bags are used, they become litter, and they find their way into our waterways, parks, beaches, and streets. And, if they are burned, they infuse the air with toxic fumes. Many animals ingest plastic bags, mistaking them for food, and therefore die. And worse, the ingested bag remains intact even after the death and decomposition of the animal. Thus, it lies around in the landscape where another victim may ingest it.

Petroleum is used to produce plastic bags. As it is, petroleum products are diminishing and becoming expensive by the day. Petroleum is vital for our modern way of life. Without viable alternative sources of energy yet on the horizon, if the supply of petroleum were to be turned off, it would lead to practically the whole world grinding to a halt. Hence, we should not waste this precious resource to produce plastic bags.

While there should be a strict ban on plastics, considering its ill-effects on the human beings and the environment, people should desist from accepting material in plastic bags. Textile showrooms and vendors/hawkers must be told in no uncertain terms that they should replace plastic bags with eco-friendly jute/paper/cotton bags.

Non-compliance must be taken seriously and fine imposed. Spot fine must be imposed on those who carry plastic bags. It is time we waged a war on plastic products.

(vsjram@in.com)

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