What is the effect of plastics on the environment? What are the problems with recycling plastics?
Plastics are man-made organic materials that are produced from oil and natural gas as raw materials. They are monomers such as ethylene, propylene, styrene and vinyl chloride linked together to form a chain called polymer. Plastics are of two kinds, Thermoplastics and thermosets. The former can be heated and cooled over and over again. Thermosets work differently. Their molecular structures are more complex. They cannot be reprocessed like thermoplastics.
Plastics recycling or reprocessing is the process by which plastic materials that would otherwise become solid waste are processed for reuse. It involves remelting the materials at high temperatures, thus altering the chemical structure and resulting in inevitable degradation of the material. Polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are four kinds commonly reprocessed.
Reprocessing is good for the environment, but can be harmful if done in informal units.This happens especially in countries like India, in a roadside shop or a house’s backyard. Such units are set up by those who want to make a fast buck. There are no safety checks in place. The owner makes his money; the poor worker falls ill.
Like people, plastics are also ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The good ones don’t harm the environment. The bad ones do. 60% of the plastics we use are good. They are used in radios, TV sets, cars, plastic panels, pipes, furniture, boxes, crates, buckets, water tanks, crockery, suitcases, briefcases, doors, and windows. These are made of thermoset plastics which cannot be recycled. By using them, we make sure materials like wood are not used. Trees can be saved.
Then there are the bad ones. PE and PP are two such goondas. Like goondas, they are not completely stable — when heated, or under light or mechanical pressure, they break down and release dangerous chemicals. When burnt, they release carbon monoxide which is really bad for your health. Styrene (used to make polystyrene) and Polyvinyl chloride (used to make PVC ) are also toxic criminals.
Heat PVC up, and soon you’ll be smelling loads of chlorine that will make you cough. A noseful of additives like plasticisers and heat stabilisers used to make PVC might further choke your lungs. Use of PVC and other plastics containing chlorine (or bromine in the form of an additive), especially for packaging, should be banned entirely. Harmful substances like pesticides, oil or food residues may have been absorbed by the scrap plastics used for recycling and can not be removed by washing — hence it should not be used for products that will come in contact with food.
To prevent environmental and health problems caused by plastic waste, simply stop littering. Avoiding packaging as much as possible. Stop believing in the ‘oh its disposable’ idea we have adopted from developed countries. At the same time, don’t fall into the trap of seeing red everytime you see plastics. Some are also good.
M U C K - M A I L
I don’t classify as a kid but I enjoy Gobar Times immensely. Maybe you ought not to say “for kids” only. That way, more adults might dig it. The layout is very attractive and so is the way information is presented. There’s a lot of effort going into Gobar Times; I hope you can sustain it!
I always wait for each and every issue of Gobar Times. It is very interesting and helps me understand environment and ecology .
I am too young but I get upset when I see people who are educated, have well-to-do jobs, but do not understand the importance of conserving animals and plants. They have action plans for earning money but no concern about the importance of environment.
I don't understand why people do not accept the fact that if proper environment is around them, only then can they survive and live long and well.
Tanmay Bhatt, Class V D
Please mention your age
I thank you for the gift hamper I got a few days back. I am very happy I was selected. I hope to participate in future contests. But I wonder why you have used polythene wrapping in the hamper that you sent me. Aren't you always campaigning against the use of polythene?
Noise pollution is the worst thing. I feel automobiles have a lion's share in this kind of pollution. During Diwali, crackers also make loud noises. Last month in Mumbai, some school children became deaf due to noise pollution.
I am a class VII student. I have stopped listening to my deck because I realised even the smallest noise causes a great deal of harm. I have told my friends not to use vehicles that make loud noises.
I want to make people realise the harm done by noise pollution. And I want to save my earth from the harm being done to it, in my small way.
In the Green Car Contest (GT, September 15), the Mercedes - Tad SX — 91 Leaf Bug, designed by Tadasmi Kaul of NOIDA, was excellent. The design is so elegant and aerodynamic. Hope car manufacturers take notice of designs like this!
Mr Arnab Sur