By Prof. Anju Kumar
Introduction: There is a huge wave of urbanization, affecting the whole world. Urbanization as we know is linked to modernization, industrialization and rationalization. Urban development is a logical coherent system constituting social, economic, cultural and physical development of cities. As a consequence of urbanization, global population has increased tremendously resulting in a huge demand for food and other essentials. This results in an increase in waste generation. One of the main components of the waste that is generated is plastic. A lot has been said about plastics and its detrimental effect on the environment. Imposing a blanket ban on plastics may not be the answer to the plastics challenge.
Plastics today are, omnipresent. Be it in packaging, construction, transportation, healthcare or electronics. They are a combination of low cost, versatility, durability and high strength to- weight ratio material. Plastic is a material which is used extensively in the modern world. It is a functional material offered at a low cost. Plastics are being used twenty fold and their utility is expected to double in the next twenty years. Today nearly everyone, everywhere, every day comes into contact with plastics especially plastic packaging.
Objective: The objective of this article is to understand the New Plastics Economy and how to coexist with this indispensible material.
Methodology: This article is a summary discussion on the Mckinsey report which was brought out along with the Ellen Macarthur foundation at the World Economic Summit at Davos in Jan 2016.
Summary Discussion: There are advantages with plastic packaging. Its barrier properties keep food fresher longer and its low weight offers lighter transportation costs. As a result, plastics are being used extensively as packaging material. Between 2000 and 2015, the share of plastic packaging as a share of global packaging volumes has increased from 17% to 25%. The global plastic packaging market is growing at a rate of 5% annually. In 2013, the industry put 78 million tons of plastic packaging on the market, with a total value of USD 260 billion.
After a short first-use cycle, 95% of plastic packaging material value, or USD 80–120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. A staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, producing substantial economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure. Plastic is a convenience and cheap material which is consumed extensively by human beings.
Plastic in the ocean is a result of people discarding and dumping it after use into the ocean. For the marine eco system, plastics which are not biodegradable are a highly polluting material which is a serious threat to the health of the oceans. Plastic is light in weight and floats and moves around the oceans on account of the currents in the ocean. Plastics affect the marine life as living organisms especially the marine mammals, get caught in the plastic nets and other materials and are unable to come up for air therefore causing havoc to marine life. Therefore the food chain in the marine ecosystem is affected.
The map below is indicative of the fact that China and other South East Asian countries cause marine pollution to a large extent.