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Friday, August 19, 2022

Will banning single-use plastics impact our health?

Single-use plastic products will be banned from July 1. Dr Ravindra Khaiwal, Professor of Environmental Health, PGI, Chandigarh, explains why this step is needed to maintain public health and the ecosystem.

plastic ban, ban on plastic, puducherry, puducherry adminPlastics degrade into microplastics after entering various ecosystems. These microplastics act as a platform for the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms. And we could do without pathogens, Dr Ravindra Khaiwal says.

What are the single-use plastic items being banned from July 1? What does it mean to me?

Single-use plastics, known as throw-away plastics, are manufactured to be used only once before being discarded or recycled. For everyday use, the ban applies to the following — plastic sticks used in earbuds, cigarette packets, plastic flags, candy and ice creams wraps, polystyrene (thermocol) used in decoration, balloons, plastic glasses, cups, plates, cutlery, trays, packaging or wrapping films around invitation cards, sweet boxes, plastic or polyvinyl chloride banners less than 100 micron and plastic stirrers.

Why is the ban being enforced?

Combating pollution caused by single-use plastics has become a significant environmental concern for all nations. The detrimental effects of littered single-use plastic products on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, particularly on the marine environment, are acknowledged globally. Ingestion of single-use plastic can damage reproductive organs, lungs, and the neurological system. An estimated 150 million tonnes of plastic garbage are actually floating in our waters, harming species and altering the marine ecosystem. Therefore, by prohibiting these plastic items, the Government can reduce plastic waste production.

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What are the various health hazards associated with single-use plastic, and what are the sources from which it enters the human body?

It is challenging to recycle single-use plastic; hence, it has spread in the earth’s ecosystem and affected the human food chain. Exposure to microplastics impacts the human food chain and may damage human health in various ways.

We consume, inhale, and ingest microplastics daily. Once inside the body, these tiny plastic particles may harm organs and be linked to significant health issues, including hormone-related malignancies, infertility, and neuro-developmental disorders such as ADHD and autism.

Plastics degrade into microplastics after entering various ecosystems. These microplastics act as a platform for the growth of pathogenic micro-organisms. Exposure to such contaminated microplastics could add to the associated disease burden and sometimes may even cause death. Scientists have connected relatively low amounts of Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure to various health issues, including cancer, decreased immunological function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes and hyperactivity. Few studies have related asthma, developmental, and reproductive consequences to endocrine dysregulation. Regular incineration of medical waste containing PVC and phthalates raises public health issues due to the release of dioxins and mercury. Long-term exposure can lead to cancer, congenital impairments, hormonal abnormalities, decreased sperm counts, infertility, endometriosis and immune damage.

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which compiles the most recent information on microplastics in drinking water, microplastic particles bigger than 150 micrometers are unlikely to be absorbed by the human body, and absorption of smaller particles is anticipated to be restricted. However, the absorption and distribution of microscopic plastic particles in the nano-size range may be more significant, despite the exceedingly little evidence available. Therefore, it is emphasised that additional research is necessary to establish a more precise estimate of exposure to microplastics and their possible health effects on humans. These include the development of standard methods for measuring microplastic particles in water, more research on the origins and occurrence of microplastics in fresh water and the evaluation of the effectiveness of various treatment processes.

How will the ban help our environment and health?

It is estimated that almost 15 per cent of our plastic is burnt. The burning of plastics emits hazardous chemicals such as dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the atmosphere, endangering the health of humans, animals and even plants.

We are irresponsibly destroying the environment for profits. Burning plastic contributes significantly to air pollution and even residents close to and employees of dumpsites are at a greater risk of getting respiratory ailments and cancer. It makes no sense to produce items such as plastic whose value is assessed in minutes and endures eternally without depreciating.

What are the alternatives to single-use plastics?

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The ban on single-use plastic will harbour innovation, specifically for plant-based rapid biodegradable products. Similarly, bio-based plastics or bioplastics are becoming increasingly prevalent. Bioplastics are manufactured in whole or in part from biological resources.

We can use bamboo, paper, or metal straws to replace plastic straws. Further, we can promote edible straws such as pasta straws or rice straws. We can encourage reusable water bottles and tap water to replace bottled water. Promote bamboo or another reusable and edible cutlery. Replace plastic shopping bag with a reusable cloth bag. Attach balloons with string/holder. Opt for kites, paper ribbons and flags, as well as tissue balls.

Promote a smoking ban; until then, cigarette buds should have biodegradable cigarettes and filters. Natural fibres can be used for sponges and dish rags with scrubbers. Replace plastic cotton buds with bamboo or paper cotton buds that are disposable or go for reusable cotton buds. Use washable cloth diapers, diapers without plastic and biodegradable wet wipes.

As a public health expert, how do you perceive this step?

Indians must feel proud of this initiative and contribute the most. Despite an emerging economy, India is playing a leadership role in demonstrating to the rest of the world how to protect the environment and promote sustainability. India will now be a leader in outlawing single-use plastic products. We must review and analyse data of other countries for successful implementation of the ban. We must develop ways to make the transition smooth and economical. This will generate enormous benefits for people and the world, thereby preventing the exorbitant expenses on the downstream effects of pollution. Moreover, action will drive breakthroughs that will support the global economy of the future. Remember that plastic is not the issue. It depends on how we use it. Therefore, we must be considerably more conscientious in our use of plastic materials to improve the earth’s sustainability and our health.

First published on: 30-06-2022 at 02:28:51 pm
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