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Nirmalya Panigrahi

Year-Prize: The 11th Eco-generation Environmental Essay Competition     Item: Beat Plastic Pollution

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Nirmalya Panigrahi (India)

Honorable Mention


Plastics in their early days were termed the “wonder material”. A long product life, high sustainability and versatility. Those were the demands for future material, like the expectations we have from carbon nanotubes these days. From the mid-19th plastics dominated the materials industries, with impacts everywhere. From consumer goods to manufacturing operations, it was all plastics.
The golden days saw an awakening in 1941, the discovery of ‘Styrofoam’. It was then that the world realised that a demon had been unleashed, a material which would not disintegrate - An indestructible piece of pollution. But by then it was late, the plastic addiction had grasped the world, and the remedy is still researched upon. Just as a glimpse of the disaster, 44 per cent of all seabird species, 22 per cent of cetaceans, all sea turtle species and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies. Virtually every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some form or other.

Plastics has today become a lifestyle problem. Our manufacturing is so dependent on it that we cannot quit plastics just at once. The best ways are therefore the 3R - reduce reuse and recycle. But this would be disinformation to say the 3R fit well into the plastic domain. Reuse of plastic goes against the very nature of its need, i.e. use and throw. Recycling plastic is a long process, and does not catch up with the demand for the material. Also, recycling and reuse techniques can work with only certain types of plastics. Thus the challenge becomes a herculean task. So the best means we have is to reduce its use. Here are some ideas that can gear up the plastic elimination drive:

1. Container Industry: This is one among the largest consumers of plastics worldwide and has huge potential in plastics reduction.
a. One innovative step is to switch to recyclable plastics like PET (poly ethylene terephthalate) and HDPE (high density poly ethylene). This can help in enforcing regulations to make recycling mandatory thus decrease average plastics production.
b. Secondly using online services for logistics, moves the burden of adhering to ecological standards to larger corporates who are capable of investing in plastics reduction. This also saves low investment shippers from worrying about container material norms
c. A major plastic reducing step can be moving to bio-degradable containers. This can also be enforced for public use.

2. Consumer Daily use: This is a domain which can be directly impacted without much loss in cost or efficiency to the process.
a. Awareness is a crucial factor in building plastic free households and offices
i. People need to know about relative harmfulness of plastics accumulation in surroundings, its related civil (like clogging) and biological (concentration of harmful hydrocarbons in the food chain).
ii. People must also be made aware of other readily available alternatives like metals, composites (paper and organic fibres)
b. Incentivization of switching to bio-friendly methods acts as an economical trust to the need for plastic-free future. Also, regulations to ban plastics in areas when living standards can afford the cost is an effective way to reduce unnecessary plastic use.
c. An innovative approach is to promote reuse of plastics as DIY crafts and art, this not only stops plastics from getting accumulated in dump yard but also helps to reduce the plastic craft industry from using virgin plastic.

3. Advanced plastic degradation: Research in fields of biotechnology have discovered microbes that can be used in fastening the process of biodegradation.
a. A strain of fungi called the PHA-degrading fungi have been successful in marine environments. Although the degradation is not complete, it can be an effective measure against the accumulating waste
b. Thermophyllic bacteria are extremely useful in degradation of synthetic polymers and can be used to extract their enzymes.
c. Bioremediation plants can be set up near sewage treatment to integrate plastic reduction into processes of water purification.
The world, that we live in today, undergoes a series of exploitation by men. Sometimes so extreme that we have grown to doubt its future beyond few centuries. Movements to ban plastics are steps that could extend the lifetime of humanity. We as individuals may not see any importance, but as a society and species, it is our prime responsibility to hand our successors a legacy better than what we inherited.

“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share.”
-Lady Bird Johnson

Plastics were an outcome of a human endeavour for the best materials, there are places in biomedical research and manufacturing where plastics are the boon to mankind. Thus plastics are an epitome of  both human failure and success. The attempts to get rid of this evergrowing threat, are probably the best we can do now. We must join together to abate the plastic cancer and let plastic be the wonder material it was meant to be.


Viraaj Kulshreshtha

  • Manjesh Jha says :
    Posted 31-10-2018 19:57

  • Aman Gangwar says :
    congrats nirmalya.
    Posted 31-10-2018 19:47

Kajal Saini

  • Kajal Saini says :
    Congratulations Nirmalya!
    Posted 26-10-2018 14:07

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