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Essay

Buhle Zikhali

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

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Beat Plastic Pollution

 

Buhle Zikhali (Zimbabwe)

Honorable Mention

 

“You should be here, Nature has need of you. She has been laid waste…” - Report to Wordsworth by Boey Kim Cheng
Indeed William Wordsworth, an acclaimed English poet, predicted the calamity that would befall the environment whilst observing the devastating environmental impact of the Industrial Revolution between 1760 and 1840. A rapid shift was culminating in Britain which led to the birth of social and technological advancements that have cemented the inner workings of today’s world. Economic development became more centered on industry than agriculture and the hotly contested race for profits obscured the importance of environmental protection. This lackadaisical attitude towards the immense pressure on natural resources was inherited by future generations until Mother Nature gave back what had been handed to her. For all the land, water and air pollution man caused, global warming, climate change and environmental degradation followed suit steering the momentum of global discussion in that course. Presently the bane of pollution is plastic. A staggering 450 million tons of plastic is produced annually with only 9% of approximately 8.3 billion tons of plastics having been recycled since the 1950s. Evidently, managing plastic waste has become overwhelming to say the least. The high durability of plastics has become a double-edged sword; perfect for a myriad of uses but also perfectly resistant to almost all natural forms of degradation. 13 million tons of plastic waste flood oceans every year afflicting marine life, waterways and even human life as consumers of food laden with micro-plastics. Aggressive implementation of impactful solutions is of a high priority at this point in time to pioneer a turnaround of this dire situation, otherwise the demise of our quality of life will manifest sooner than later.
The dramatic surge in popularity of plastic commenced in 1907 when the first wholly synthetic plastic bakelite was created by Leo Bakeland. It was perhaps an innocent discovery, but in the bliss of infantile oblivion humans abused a tool which was meant to help them. Appalling pictures and reports of sea animals entangled in abandoned fishing nets, beached whales carrying dozens of plastics their stomachs and grotesque hills of plastics waste continuously appear in the news and social media. An estimated 50-80% of rubbish in marine territory is plastic with as much as 90% of seabirds ingesting plastic micro-debris. A shocking statistic predicts that number of plastics in the ocean will supersede that of fish by 2050. Of course in all this pandemonium humans are not spared from consuming plastics through the food chain. Toxins in plastics which are derivatives of crude oil pose significant health risks such as cancer, hormonal and immune disorders as well as birth deficiencies. Landfill sites are bursting at the seams with single-use plastic products such as packaging and no resolution in sight. Even tap water has been contaminated by as much as 83% according to global samples taken in 2017. Industrial powerhouses like the USA are observing detectable amounts of BPA, the initial material for the manufacture of plastics, in 95% of adults. Associated with BPA exposure are reproductive anomalies such as disruptions in gamete development.
In as much as the damage caused by plastic pollution is highly documented and researched today, the response from businesses and manufacturers has been found wanting. The top 50 producers of plastics raked in a total of US$961,300,000,000 in sales in 2014 and a jaw-dropping 1 million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. Single-use plastic usage is through the roof.  The inexpensive nature of plastics makes profit seekers short-change sustainability for cheap yet environmentally scourging options. Although an arousal of consumer consciousness is placing establishments on the hot-seat to switch to recyclable products, the lion’s share of the responsibility has been passed onto the customer. Refusing plastic utensils such as the plastic straw is becoming the norm. Socially sensitive enterprises are even removing the plastic option in exchange for bamboo, paper or metallic straws. Living with less plastic will have to involve reusable stainless steel or glass water bottles, reusable shopping bags made of fabric, and non-plastic cutlery and cups.
Innovative substitutes for plastics have crept up such as bioplastics which are 100% degradable made, for instance, from sugarcane or corn.  Aligning with eco-friendly brands utilizing sustainable packaging will promote the path to sustainability. Palm leaf packing created by Arekapak can be used for fruit, vegetable and nut packaging. Soap artisan Holy Lama wraps their handmade soap in oyster-like cases made with areca palm leaves. The self-touted Solubag is a plastic bag alternative which dissolves completely in water. Government bodies which take plastic waste seriously like Singapore are moving leaps and bounds in low to no plastic pollution, even banning chewing gum.
As the Director General of the Rwanda Environment Management Authority wisely said, “It’s time to choose between planet and plastic”.  

 

5 Comments

Manjesh Jha

  • Manjesh Jha says :
    Congratulations Buhle.
    Posted 31-10-2018 19:58

Aman Gangwar

  • Aman Gangwar says :
    Congrats Buhle.
    Posted 31-10-2018 19:40

Kajal Saini

  • Kajal Saini says :
    Congratulations Buhle.
    Posted 26-10-2018 13:02

Archa B Jayan

  • Archa B Jayan says :
    Congrats Buhle Zikhali !!!

    Posted 24-10-2018 00:54

Viraaj Kulshreshtha

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