Why world has declared a war against plastic
On August 20, the Parliament said it would ban the use of plastic items in the complex. From October 2, the Indian Railways will ban single-use plastics. Both announcements come just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech urged citizens to abandon the use of single-use plastic. The government has already announced it plans to phase out disposable plastics by 2022. But it wasn’t easy for the anti-plastic movement to get to where it is today.
Almost half of all plastic ever made has been produced since 2000
Since the year 1950, 8.3-9 billion metric tonnes of plastic has been produced globally – equivalent to more than four Mt Everests of waste. About 44% of all plastic ever manufactured has been made since the year 2000.
India generates 25,940 tonnes of plastic waste daily – that’s the weight of about 9,000 Asian elephants. Yet, Indians are among the world’s lowest consumers of plastic. An average Indian consumes 11kg in a year (2014-15), below the global average of 28kg.
From wonder material to public enemy No. 1
Not just the common man, even experts are surprised at the extent of the backlash against plastic in recent times, with many having grown used to scientists’ warnings going unheeded. Some say the severity of the plastic crisis is overstated in the public sphere, which has led to an arguably more critical issue like climate change getting sidelined. But how did public opinion on plastic get here?
1. THE EARLY PROMISE OF PLASTIC
19th century: A brittle, early form of plastic, called Parkesine or celluloid, is used to make household items.
1907: First iteration of modern plastic, Bakelite, is invented in the US. It is initially intended for use in electrical wiring, but its producers quickly realised the potential for use in thousands of products. Over the next few decades, more varieties of plastic are invented that quickly become popular for their versatility.
2. WAR MAKES PLASTIC ESSENTIAL
1939-1945: Plastic becomes indispensable during World War II, and is used in almost everything at a time when most other resources are scarce. US plastic production, in particular, triples during the war, creating the enormous petrochemical industry.
3. POST-WAR PLASTIC BOOM
1950s-1970s: After the war, plastic products continue to spread, eventually replacing cotton, glass and cardboard.
1954: Already, people warn of future problems. Lloyd Stouffer, editor of trade journal Modern Plastics, said the “future of plastics is in the trash can,” a claim for which he is mocked.
1965: Plastic enters the 13th consecutive year of record growth. The throwaway container market displaces the returnable container model. From a 96% return rate of reusable containers in 1950, return rate falls below 5% in the 1970s.
1970: Global soft drinks majors begin to replace their glass bottles with plastic.
Glass on its way out with soft drink companies preferring plasticread captionGlass on its way out with soft drink companies preferring plastic