Wednesday, 6 July, 2022
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Single-use Plastic a Major Threat to Ocean

Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder

Single-use Plastic a Major Threat to Ocean
Prof. Dr. Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder

Every year on June 8, World Oceans Day is celebrated worldwide. The 2022 theme for World Ocean Day is Revitalization: Collective Action for the Ocean: “Shedding light on the communities, ideas, and solutions that are working together to protect and revitalize the ocean and everything it sustains.” We need a good solution for our ocean pollution. Due to different types of plastic products our ocean is getting polluted day by day. One of the very useable and low-cost single-use plastic is one of them.

Single-use plastics or disposable plastics primarily composed of chemicals from fossil fuels (petrochemicals) are designed to be thrown immediately after use, often in only minutes. Many of us use these things daily without considering their final destinations. Plastics are utilised in various items due to their simplicity of manufacture, low cost, impermeability, and resistance to chemicals, heat, and light. They have rapidly replaced and displaced many other materials such as wood, paper, stone, leather, metal, glass, and ceramic. Petroleum-based plastic is not biodegradable. It is typically dumped in landfills or washed into water bodies and eventually makes its way to the ocean. Though plastic will not biodegrade, it gradually breakdown into smaller particles of plastic known as microplastics. When single-use plastics and packaging are broken down, harmful chemicals are released into our food and water supply. Single-use plastics and packaging are used for various purposes, from convenience to critical health and safety applications, and their usage is expanding. Many of these plastic goods are poorly handled at the end of their useful lives and hardly recycled. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, just 9% of the world's nine billion tons of plastic have been recycled. Most plastic waste is disposed of in landfills, our oceans and waterways, and the environment. A plastic bag takes 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill. Unfortunately, the bags do not totally decompose but rather photodegrade into microplastics that absorb poisons and continue to damage the environment. Plastic bags begin as fossil fuels and end up as poisonous garbage in landfills and the ocean. Plastic pollution poses a hazard to the health of species, ecosystems, rivers, lakes, and oceans when it is released into the natural environment. Birds frequently confuse shredded plastic bags for food, poisoning their intestines. It's practically impossible for hungry marine turtles to tell the difference between jellyfish and floating plastic shopping bags. Fish consume thousands of tons of plastic each year, passing it through the food chain to larger fish and marine mammals. Humans also ingest microplastics via food and the air.

One million plastic bottles are used worldwide every minute, and up to five trillion plastic bags are used annually. In sum, 50% of all plastic produced is designed for single-use. Globally, fewer than 10% of the seven billion tonnes of plastic trash have been recycled to date. Millions of tons of plastic garbage are lost to the environment or transported thousands of kilometres to be burned or dumped. Annual losses in the value of plastic packaging trash due to sorting and processing are estimated to be between US$ 80 and 120 billion. Rivers and lakes transport plastic garbage from the core to the coast, making them significant contributors to ocean pollution. Given recent efforts, it is believed that our oceans contain between 75 and 199 million tonnes of plastic. Unless we drastically alter our production, usage and disposal of plastic, plastic trash entering aquatic environments is anticipated to nearly triple from 9-14 million tonnes per year in 2016 to 23-37 million tons per year in 2040. A large portion of it originates in the world's rivers, which act as direct conduits for waste. One thousand rivers are estimated to be responsible for approximately 80% of global annual riverine plastic emissions, which range between 0.8 and 2.7 million tons per year, with tiny urban rivers being among the most polluted. Since the 1950s, plastic production has increased at a greater rate than any other material.

Additionally, there has been an alarming trend toward single-use plastic products. Between 1950 and 2017, approximately 7,000 million tons of the estimated 9,200 million tonnes of plastic produces became plastic waste, with about three-quarters being thrown away and dumped into landfills, becoming part of uncontrolled and mismanaged waste streams, or being discarded or abandoned in the environment, including at sea. Worldwide primary plastic output is expected to reach 34 billion tons by 2050.

Bangladesh is one of the most plastic-polluted countries globally due to the poor waste management of single-use plastics. Bangladesh faced a substantial increase in both plastic use and pollution due to fast urbanisation. Bangladesh's annual per capita plastic usage in urban areas has tripled in the last 15 years, from 3 kg in 2005 to 9 kg in 2020. The majority of mismanaged plastic garbage was single-use plastics. Plastic waste that is not properly managed pollutes towns, rural areas, rivers, and canals. They obstruct drainage systems, resulting in urban flooding. The present COVID-19 situation has worsened existing conditions, mainly due to the usage of single-use plastic in masks, gloves, and personal protective equipment. However, the Environmental Protection Act, 1995 (as amended by Act No. 9 of 2002) prohibits the manufacture, import, sale, display, and stockpiling of ecologically hazardous plastics. Violators of this law are liable to a penalty that may be imposed as imprisonment not exceeding ten years or a fine not exceeding 1,000,000 taka or both. We must perfectly implement the law. At the same time, we must reduce the flow of plastic at its source and improve our waste management practices. At the moment, a large portion of it ends up in the environment. Sustainable plastic management will be critical for Bangladesh to combat growing plastic pollution and promote green growth, according to a recent World Bank report. The report states, “The National Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management is centred on circular plastic use, utilizing a RRR method of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” While tackling social and environmental concerns, a circular economy will generate new value chains, green skills, jobs, and innovative goods.

Plastic pollution has risen as one of the most significant environmental challenges, as the world's capacity to manage disposable plastic products has been overwhelmed. Plastic pollution is especially noticeable in developing Asian and African countries, where waste management systems are either inadequate or nonexistent. However, the industrialised world, particularly in countries with poor recycling rates, also struggles to collect discarded plastics adequately. Plastic waste has become so pervasive that efforts to write a global treaty negotiated by the United Nations have been launched. The most effective strategy to mitigate the impact of single-use plastics on climate change is to discontinue their use. Meanwhile, it is essential to reduce plastic pollution and figure out how to make used plastics completely useable and keep them from ending up on land or in the sea.

 

The writer is the Dean of Faculty of Science, Chairman of Department of Environmental Science, Stamford University Bangladesh and Joint Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon