After the government’s decision to ban single-use plastic in, Dr Samrat Ghosh, an assistant professor in the Chemical department at the Indian Institute of Scientific Education and Research (IISER) tells The Indian Express about how important the ban was and how people must adapt to the replacement of plastic.
How do you see the ban on single-use plastic?
TI welcome it, but the implementataion of this ban will be a problem as we have been using for so long. A specific penal provision after has to be provided for and monitored.
People are used to plastic material. How do you think the gap created by the non use of plastic can be filled?
It requires behavioural change and going back to the practice of using glass, stainless steel, earthen pots (matka, khullar) as we used even till 30 years ago. The change will only come with some self discipline.
How to make this behavioral change from use of plastics to non-plastics?
Both the government and NGOs have to highlight to the people, the menace of micro-plastics on health and environment. Research shows that plastic causes higher incidences of cancer, biabetes, birth defects, mental disease, alzheimer etc. Making people more aware about this will make them more conscious about the use of plastic.
What are the alternatives to plastic?
There are reports that suggest that silicone is more environment friendly than plastic as it does not release phthalates, styrene and bisphenols in the body or in the environment. Cloth or jute bags can be used instead of plastic bags. Plastic-like biodegradable bags are also available in India now which are made from natural starch, vegetable oil derivatives and vegetable waste.
Does the ‘BPA-free’ label on plastic bottles mean that this category of plastic bottles are safer than other plastic bottles not carrying that label?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is widely used in the manufacture of plastics except for plastics used in making baby feeding bottles and other products for infant use. It is toxic because it is suspected that it interferes with the normal functioning of the hormones, beyond a certain threshold of accumulating in the body leading to various illnesses. As people became aware of the adverse effects of BPA, the manufacturers have substituted BPA with other chemicals having similar properties like BPP, BPF, BPS, BPZ, BHPF, BPAF etc. These alternatives or substitutes have something in common and that is the basic chemical structure of bisphenol (BP) as in BPA. Chemically speaking the plastic bottle is now ‘BPA-free’ but not ‘BP-free’. So I personally feel these ‘BPA-free’ bottles are still a health hazard.
How can the plastic waste, which has accumulated for years, be disposed of?
One way of disposing it is by making roads which use plastic waste using a novel technique developed by a Madurai based Chemistry professor, Rajagopalan Vasudevan, who was also recently conferred the Padma Shree for his unique contribution.
What could be the possible harms to environment for disposing of the plastic material?
Since these conventional plastic bottles are non-biodegradable, they choke our drainage system, destroys aquatic life and ecosystem, affecting the livelihood and existence of so many people dependent on healthy aquatic ecosystem. The leeching of phthalates, styrene and bisphenols from these plastics in the environment pollutes both soil and the water bodies on which we depend for our food and water.