Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Demonizing plastic

"Never reuse coke bottle for storing drinking water. It may cause cancer", I was told by a friend once. That was shocking! I thought, "Can plastics react with food material in time and cause such harmful effects? Can't trust things with looks, can you?". Yet, somehow the statement seemed to make sense. After all, it is plastic! Its non-biodegradable, and with so much campaign to ban plastic, it has to be right!

From then on, when I see a plastic bottle lying around my kitchen or being reuse, my stomach used to churn and images of cancer victims vomiting blood on to the wash-basin or white kerchief (the colour contrast dramatized the fear factor!).

Recently, however, I came across a link to that talks about Myth and Reality about plastic Environmental Information System (ENVIS) an Indian government sponsored body " collect, collate and disseminate information relating to Environment to Universities, Registered Societies or Private Bodies or State Government Departments / Organisations."

Apparently, the whole campaign about plastic and cancer is just a sensational media campaign of what was a Master's Thesis that didn't go through the rigour of scientific peer review. Reuse of plastic is still not recommended for fears of spreading infection resulting from human contact and improper cleaning. But no cancer involved. This link and the pages that follow (find the small "next" link right at the bottom of this page link) offer a good insight not only into plastics, but also into the difference possible between the object and the perception of the object! For example, the link calls into question the use of paper as an alternative to plastics. It says

"Paper is not eco-friendly

We need to remind ourselves that making of paper and products consumes a lot of chemicals and requires a large amount of water and effluent problems are severe. Besides paper, unless coated with polymeric materials (or wax), cannot withstand wet conditions which are widely prevalent in India, particularly during monsoon periods. Paper making also consumes a lot of energy. In the Indian context the most serious problem is the availability of pulp. Environmental degradation has unquestionably occurred due to pulp manufacturing activities as commercial forestry, on large scale, is still a taboo. Padmabhushan Prof. M. M. Sharma (FRS) "

The article's take is that the only factor that can be called malicious to life is human. It repeatedly points out that plastic is not bio-degradable, but they are 100% recyclable. The solution to managing plastic is to recycling and recycling is entirely in our hands!

However, few details are unclear to me. My understanding is that there are recyclable thermoplastics like those used for making poly-bags and non-recyclable ones like Bakelite. What of the second kind?

Further, the link offers incineration as a way to get rid of plastic. I find from other links dedicated to protecting the environment that incineration is a widely hated method of generating energy from the waste. Unless an alternative method to this method exists, it seems that minimizing the use of plastic seems to be the best way forward.

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