Human Rights, Environment & Social StudiesLNA World

Let’s invest in these 9 plastic pollution solutions

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Let's own the plastic pollution problem and solve it together. Photo by Tanvi Sharma on Unsplash

By: Dr. Rulia Akhtar

The global plastic trash contamination issue is escalating at an unprecedented rate, and it is highly disturbing to realize that a significant amount of plastic trash has never been recycled. The majority of plastic wrapping, as reported by the United Nations Environment Programme, is made up of disposable plastics such as grocery bags, boxes, and containers. These plastics, and these are supposed to be discarded shortly after use, are often disposed of in one manufacturing period. Their expanded use has considerably triggered to the increase amount of plastic garbage. While plastic has many useful applications, we have grown hooked to single-usage plastic goods, which have serious ecological, economical, and health implications. Million plastic bottles are purchased every minute all over the world, and 5 trillion reusable bags are used every year. The majority of plastic produced is meant for reusable tasks that are used only once before being discarded.

Dr. Rulia Akhtar

Plastic waste is one of the most significant ecological and health issues facing humanity today. Plastic is the 3rd most prevalent waste material in the world, with global population growth and individual use growth both contributing to an increase in the total amount of plastic waste. Malaysia, which has been the top the buyer of garbage made of plastic since 2017, tracks global trends in both the production of overall material and the use of disposable plastic. The nation’s waste disposal system is faced with a number of formidable challenges as a result of these factors. Malaysia received almost 500 thousand tons of plastic garbage in 2021 and returned approximately 11 thousand tons, putting this nation one of the world’s biggest importers of plastic waste.

Apart from importing plastic trash from other nations, Malaysia is a world leader in plastics manufacture, with an industry worth 30 billion Ringgit. It has been dealing with the issue of plastic contamination for a long time. The consumption of disposable plastic bags in stores and supermarkets has significantly decreased in the past few years. However, many small grocery stores and shops continue to give out disposable bags to their consumers without considering the environmental impact. The image of blocked sewers and dumps full with these pollutants serves as an indicator that everyone, including the authorities, must act to reduce our reliance on plastic.

Plastic trash has serious and negative consequences for both the environment and human health. Plastic trash has a variety of environmental effects, including marine pollution, land pollution, habitat damage, and so on. First, plastics are a major source of marine pollution. It debris that enters bodies of water can harm marine life through ingestion or entanglement. This has an impact on the entire marine ecology.

Malaysia emits 0.14 to 0.37 million tons of plastic trash into the oceans each year. Second, incorrect garbage disposal causes plastics to accumulate in dumps, adding to land contamination. It decomposes over hundreds of years, resulting in long-term environmental repercussions. Third, when plastic garbage is inappropriately disposed of or burned, it can destroy natural environments such as forestry and wetlands. This damage has an adverse effect on biodiversity and ecosystems. Aside from the environmental issue, plastic trash has a negative influence on human health. To begin with, plastics frequently contain chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates, which can leak into food, water, and the environment. Long-term exposure to these chemicals has been associated to a variety of health concerns, including hormone abnormalities, reproductive troubles, developmental disorders, and an increased risk of cancer. Second, animals may consume plastic particles, which can build up in their organs. Humans may be exposed to dangerous compounds

found in plastics if they ingest these infected animals. Third, the combustion of plastic garbage emits hazardous chemicals and particulate particles into the atmosphere, leading to air pollution. These contaminants can cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems, and other respiratory disorders if inhaled. Fourth, micro plastics have been discovered in food and beverages, including drinking water, posing the risk of human ingestion. Micro plastic ingestion’s long-term health implications are still being explored, but they are concerning.

Plastic pollution is a major environmental concern that must be addressed collaboratively. However, there are some suggestions for mitigating and reducing plastic pollution:

To begin, individuals and organizations should be encouraged to limit their usage disposable plastics such as grocery baggies, straws, vessels, and packages. Encourage the use of reusable alternatives such as cloth bags, metal or glass containers, and materials that are biodegradable or compostable.

Second, upgrade recycling infrastructure and put in place efficient waste management systems. Educate the people on proper garbage disposal and recycling practices. Encourage the separation of recyclable materials at the source and support community-recycling activities. Recycling reduces carbon dioxide emissions by around 700 million tonnes globally. We have a responsibility to protect our living environment and its natural resources, as well as to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems for the next generation.

Third, create and promote environmentally beneficial alternatives to plastic. Encourage the use of materials that are biodegradable or compostable and sourced from renewable sources. Encourage research and development of sustainable packaging materials and products.

Fourth, put in place laws that hold manufacturers accountable for their products’ whole lifecycle, including proper disposal and recycling. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programmes urge companies to develop products with recyclability in mind and motivate them to accept responsibility for their products’ end-of-life.

Fifth, tighten controls on the manufacture, usage, and disposal of plastic products. Implement plastic bag bans, single-use plastic limits, and regulations that promote environmentally friendly packaging. Promote the use of reused components in products and packaging.

Sixth, through educational campaigns, workshops, and media initiatives, promote public awareness about the negative environmental effects of plastic pollution. Educate people on the need of decreasing plastic waste and provide practical ideas for switching to more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Seventh, support and participate in plastic pollution clean-up efforts in oceans, rivers, and other natural ecosystems. Promote community-led projects, organise beach clean-ups, and collaborate with organisations working to clean up and restore plastic-polluted ecosystems.

Eighth, promote global cooperation in the fight against plastic pollution. Support international agreements and collaborations aimed at reducing plastic waste, such as the Clean Seas campaign and the Basel Convention. Share best practises in waste management and recycling technology.

Ninth, inspire customers to make long-term decisions by supporting firms that prioritize environmentally friendly practises and products. Choose products with minimum packaging or packaging that is recycled or biodegradable. When feasible, choose reusable items.

Finally, yet importantly, invest in breakthrough technology research and development to combat plastic waste. Support programmes aimed at reducing plastic waste, improving recycling, and developing biodegradable or sustainable materials. It is critical to recognise that combating plastic pollution necessitates a multidimensional approach involving individuals, communities, businesses, and governments. We can reduce plastic waste and protect the health of our world by implementing these measures collaboratively.

……

The author is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya.

Photo credit https://www.ecolife.zone/reducing-single-use-plastics/

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