Plastic waste management is the process of recycling plastic waste and reprocessing it to make useful products. Plastic, as we know, is a non-biodegradable item and therefore it needs to be recycled to reduce environmental damage. Majorly, there are two methods to recycle plastic – mechanical and chemical recycling. In mechanical recycling, the plastic is chopped and washed whereas in chemical recycling, the plastic is dismantled into basic components.
Studies conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme, show that around 400 million tonnes of single-use plastic is accumulated worldwide, out of which only 9% is recycled. Plastic waste management in India is a concern, especially with the increase in use of plastic materials. It is seen that India generates about fifteen million tonnes of plastic waste every year, out of which only one-fourth gets recycled and the remaining ends up on the river beds or landfills.
Types of waste
Before going into the details of plastic waste management, let us first understand the different types of waste generated by humans:
Liquid Waste: This waste includes dirty water, organic liquids, wash water, waste detergents and even unmanaged rainwater.
Solid Waste: It includes a gamut of items discarded in your household. Commercial and industrial establishments also produce solid waste. Types of solid waste include discarded plastics, paper, and metal shreds.
Organic Waste: Organic waste includes discarded food items, garden waste, manure and rotten meat.
Recyclable Waste: This includes things that can be renewed into functioning/useful products. Paper, metals and furniture are some of the examples of recyclable waste products.
Hazardous Waste: Waste that can harm living beings as well as the environment, fall under the category of hazardous waste. These wastes include flammable, toxic, corrosive and reactive items that need careful disposal.
Effects of improper solid waste management
Reports presented by East Delhi Municipal Corporation (EDMC) show that over 2,000 tonnes of garbage is dumped every day at Ghazipur’s 33-year-old dumpsite. On 1 September 2017, a considerable portion of the dumpsite, that is 50-meter-high, collapsed, leading to two casualties. This was a result of the saturation of garbage and no alternative waste disposal land as well as poor domestic waste management.
Primarily, solid waste impacts:
Human Health – If solid waste remains uncollected or is not disposed of properly, it increases the risk of infection. Since domestic waste is known to ferment, it creates favorable conditions for harmful pathogens to grow and thrive.
Soil – Solid waste, if not disposed of properly, rots and produces a foul odour. It also generates methane gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect. The decomposition of leachate may also cause pollution. Plastic is the most harmful solid waste that releases a carcinogen called DEHA that affects the reproductive system and leads to dysfunction of the liver. Therefore, it is mandatory to recycle even household waste such as plastics, metals, paper or electronic waste.
Air – It is important to dispose of harmful chemicals such as bleach or acids properly. Burning paper and plastic at garbage dump site emits gas and harmful chemicals that cause damage to the ozone layer. Dioxins that are released in the air, go into our lungs when we breathe.
Water – Solid waste that penetrates the ground reaches the groundwater, thereby polluting it. This polluted water is used for various purposes ranging from irrigation to drinking.
Animal and marine life – Plastic waste consumption by land and marine animals can lead to their death. This is because they don’t know any better and consume plastic items along with regular food on land as well as in water which have been carelessly disposed of by humans. Also, mosquitoes and rats breed in sewage areas and carry life-threatening diseases.
Plastic waste management
For better management of plastic waste, the following strategies are followed:
Regulation: Production and use of plastic and plastic products by humans for personal or commercial purposes should be regulated. The usage of plastic in the form of unnecessary packing, labeling material, should be avoided and an eco-friendly alternative to plastic should be used.
Landfills: Plastic can easily be disposed of at landfills. However, it is important to note that the process of landfilling requires a large amount of space and chemicals and is, therefore, a highly wasteful process. In places where landfills are not managed properly, plastic waste gets carried out to the water bodies. Also, plastic decomposition in landfills leads to leaching of pollutants into the soil and surrounding environment. Thus landfills need to be used in a well planned and efficient manner for them to be successful.
Incineration: Prepared from petroleum or natural gas, plastics have energy value greater than any other material. Plastics produce an immense amount of heat when they are burned. Some of the energy derived from the production of plastic is returned through incineration. However, in general, incinerating plastics negatively affects the environment. It also affects our wellbeing; as hazardous substances get released into the atmosphere. For example, the process of incineration of plastic waste, if done by mixing with PVC and halogenated additives, can further lead to a release of dioxins and polychlorinated-biphenyls into the environment. Thus, incineration has its pros and cons and should be used with caution.
Recycling: Plastics can also be recycled to form a fresh item. Recycling plastic is considered to be the most effective way to deal with plastic waste and therefore, public awareness must be created regarding the recycling of plastic. For better recycling, it is necessary to empty the plastic bottles and containers before it is sent out for recycling. Giving them a quick rinse can help in better recycling.
Biodegradable plastic: Biodegradable plastics are plastics that can be decomposed by the action of living organisms, usually microbes, into water, carbon dioxide and biomass. Biodegradable plastics are commonly produced with renewable raw materials, micro-organisms, petrochemicals, or combinations of all three. Biodegradable plastics are commonly used for disposable items, such as packaging, crockery, cutlery and foodservice containers. These plastics can solve multiple issues related to plastic waste management.
Besides the above-mentioned pointers, plastic use can also be reduced by –
Stopping the use of plastic straws and replacing them with paper straws.
Using a reusable cloth bag instead of a plastic bag to carry products.
It is advisable to use cardboard boxes for short term storage of items instead of plastic bags.
Waste disposal problems: The major problems of solid waste disposal in India are-
Unscientific treatment of waste
Inappropriate waste collection methods
Production of excessive waste that includes toxin waste
Ethical problems in terms of regulations that rely on vested interests
Sheetal Group is one of the leading and best manufacturers of waste management bins in India. With a wide range of durable and reliable garbage bins that are perfect for solid waste disposal as well as liquid waste disposal, Sheetal Group has been successfully supporting in making the nation cleaner.