By: Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
Faculty Mathematics, NIELIT Imphal, Akampat.
Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects like plastic bottles and much more in the Earth’s Environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat and humans. Plastics that acts as a pollutants are categorized into micro, meso or macro debris based on size. Plastics are inexpensive and durable and as a result levels of plastic production by humans are high. However the chemical structure of most plastics renders them resistant to many natural process of degradation and as a result they are slow to degrade. Together these two factors have led to a high prominence of plastic pollution in the Environment. Plastic pollution can affect land, waterways and Ocean. It is estimated that 1.1 to 8.8 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste enters the Ocean from coastal communities each year. Living organisms, particularly marine animals can be harmed either by mechanical effects, such as entanglement in plastic objects or problems related to ingestion of plastic waste or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that interfere with their physiology. Humane are also affected by plastic pollution such as through disruption of various harmful mechanisms.
As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide each year. From the 1950s up to 2018, an estimated 6.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% has been incinerated. In the UK alone, more than 5 million tons of plastics are consumed each year of which only an estimated one quarter is recycled, with the remainder going to landfills. This large amount of plastic waste inevitably enters the environment with studies suggesting that the bodies of 90% of seabirds contains plastic debris. In some areas there have been significant efforts to reduce the prominence of plastic pollution through reducing plastic consumption and promoting plastic recycling. Some researchers suggest that by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the Ocean by weight. Chlorinated plastic can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then seep into groundwater or other surrounding water source and also the ecosystem of the World. This can cause serious harm to species that drink the water. Landfills areas contain many different types of plastics. In these landfills there are many microorganisms which speed up the degradation of plastics. The microorganisms include bacteria such as pseudomonas, nylon eating bacteria and Flavobacteria. These bacteria break down nylon through the activity of the nylonase enzymes. Breakdown of biodegradable plastics release methane, a gas very powerful greenhouse gas that contribute significantly the global warming.
In 2012, it was estimated that, there was approximately 165 million tons of plastics pollution in the world’s Ocean. One type of plastic that is of concern in terms of Ocean plastic pollution is nurdles. Nurdles are manufactured plastic pellets used in the creation of plastic products and are often shipped via cargo ship. Many billions of nurdles are spilled into Ocean each year and it has been estimated that globally around 10% of beach litter consist of nurdles. Plastics in Ocean typically degrade within a year but not entirely. In the process, toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and polystyrene can leach into waters from plastic pollution in Ocean and combined with plastic bags and food containers make up the majority of Ocean debris. One study estimated that there are more than 5 trillion plastic pieces (defined into the four classes of small micro plastics, large micro plastics, mesoand macro plastics) afloat at sea. The litter that is being delivered into the Oceans is toxic to marine fish and humans. The toxins that are components of plastics include diethylhexyl phthalate, which is a toxic carcinogen as well as lead, cadmium and mercury. Plankton fish and ultimately the human race through the food chain, ingest these highly toxic carcinogens and chemical. Consuming the fish that contain these toxins can cause an increase in cancer, immune disorder and birth defects. This was the first study to focus on global drinking water pollution with plastic and showed that with a contamination rate of 94% tap water in United States was the most polluted followed by Lebanon and India. European countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate though still as high as 72%. This means that people may be ingesting between 3,000 to 4,000micro particles of plastics from tap water per year. This analysis found particles of more than 2.5 micron size, which is 2,500 times bigger than a nanometer. It is currently unclear, if this contamination is affecting human health but if the water is also found to contain nano-particles pollutants, there could be adverse impacts on human well-being, according to Scientist associated with the study.
Due to the use of chemical additives during plastic production, plastics have potentially harmful effects that could prove to be carcinogenic or promote endocrine disruption. Some of the additives are used as phthalate plasticizers and brominated flame retardants. Through biomonitoring, chemicals in plastics such as BPA and phthalates, have been identified in the human population. Humans can be exposed to these chemicals through the nose, mouth or skin. Some of the chemicals used in plastic production can cause dermatitis upon contact with our skin. Plastic pollution has the potential to poison animals which can then adversely affect human food supplies. Some marine species such as sea turtles have been found to contain large proportion of plastics in their stomach. When this occurs, the animals typically starves because the plastic block the animals’ digestive tract. Sometimes marine mammals are entangled in plastic products such as nets which can harm or kill them.
This is the global scenario in a wider spectrum. Coming down to our tiny state Manipur, which was once a green state, will it be exorbitant to say that Manipur is free from this problem? Everybody will say, no. We all have seen plastic bottles, plastic bags or any other form of plastic everywhere in our state. Plastics in the rivers, on the roadsides, at the playground, in the field, in the lakes and so on. Again, it is reported that 5% of the total solid waste generated in Imphal per day is plastic. If it is so the adverse effect of plastic pollution mentioned above will not leave Manipur aside rather we will have more serious effect. In few days back we all have experienced the problems of solid waste, plastic waste in Imphal Municipality area due to the prevention of dumping these waste at LamdengKhunou by the local people. The inconvenience caused by these waste have been experienced by each one of us. This is just the beginning. Then what shall we do now? It is we, general public to prevent and protect our environment from such serious issue. Simply, waiting action from our leaders who always provide lip service will not solve the problem timely rather we all will go to the hell. So let us reduce the usage of plastic and plastic products for a better and healthy Manipur.