Every Sunday, a bunch of us gather at the beach near our hometown and clean the shore. The best part is that we get to do it alongside enthusiastic children who show up week after week after week.
When we enter the beach, it looks like a long-lost cousin of trash yards. We set a decent target distance. We start with grit and great energy.
By the time we reach our target, we get unusually tired, thirsty and happy. And the beach looks untouched and remains so till the next half-day or so.
This isn’t just to keep the little Kakinada beach pretty. When we clean, we make sure that the land closest to the shoreline is wiped off of plastic, thermocol and other wastes.
Point of executing imperfect solutions?
Every week when we clean the beach, we end up with heaps of waste. But there are no ways to pick the trash and transport it away from there.
A friend of a friend of mine once bluntly declared: “You all do beach cleaning every week. But, it gets dirty sooner than the time you are taking to clean it. It is a waste of time!”.
I must agree, he was not wrong. Ofcourse the shores didn’t remain clean for more than a few hours. But, let me explain the indirect benefits of community activities, even when they are not permanent solutions to problems.
Visitors and the local vendors by the beach were watching us week after week after week- the act didn’t just serve one purpose of cleaning- it also doubled in as an active awareness campaign.
We were having many small conversations about the activity regularly. So many new members joined- new skill sets, new perspectives. None had answers or straight sollutions; but, we all were engaged in an activity week after week, knowing that this is not the real solution.
Wouldn’t our collective minds be more invested in finding sustainable and long standing solutions doing an imperfect activity rather than sitting in the isolation of our individual homes and ideating about solutions instead of doing anything about it?
Even if we stumbled upon an executable solution our activities and the strength in numbers would make it more credible to the decision makers, wouldn’t it?
Cleaning nearby a waterfront is not nearly the same thing as cleaning your colony or your neighbour’s house.
The same kind & amount of pollution has different effects on different surroundings. Some ecological zones are more damaged by the same amount of pollution as compared to others. This is called “Variable Eco-sensitivity”.
Ecological Sensitivity varies between land and water. Near certain spaces like farmlands, lakes, rivers, ocean fronts and underground water channels, pollution sensitivity is very high.
If you throw plastic waste on land, it won’t decompose for 100 to 1000 years. But, if you throw it into a water body, it will not decompose or 100 to 1000 years PLUS contaminates the water body making it a toxic soup PLUS effects the aquatic life.
Cows eat plastic and die if we litter plastic openly. The plastic swims its way to the aquatic organisms. Similarly, undecomposable solid polutants are eaten by aquatic organisms that kills them.
The chemicals used to create plastic- which is not food grade- are toxic for any form of life. They seep in toxins into the waters contaminating it.
Question 1: Thick plastic or thin plastic: which is more harmful?
Just because it is thin, thin plastic does not decompose faster. In fact, thick plastic takes about 450 years to decompose and it is recyclable. But thin plastic is one-time use and takes 1000 years to decompose. What a waste just for one time use, right?
Question 2: Why is burning plastic bad for the environment?
We all know it is bad because it causes air pollution and releases toxic gases. But,
These tiny solid contaminants settle on water sources, enter crops by accumulating on land, and reach an organism through food, water, and air.
Plastic, when heated or exposed to hot temperatures, may release dioxins, furans, Poly Chlorinated Biphenyls and mercury. When plastic is burnt, our skin alongwith our nose inhales the toxic emissions. When burnt plastic is inhaled, it might result in depression, asthma, PCOS, or Cancer.
These materials bioaccumulate. Which means they enter your body and stay in your fat cells. The brain requires fats to function. If these fats are contaminated by plastic injected toxins, it might result in a range of brain malfunctions.
Babies get these accumulations from placenta if their mother is highly exposed to this. Deformities in new-borns, cancer, reproductive health problems and mental illnesses may occur due to this.
Food in Plastic or Plastic in Food?
One of the most rampant ways in which plastic contamination is spreading is through your lunch boxes, water packets and food parcels.
Plastic and heat is a toxic combination. When hot food comes into contact with the plastic cover toxins get activated and seep into the food.
Food grade plastic is not used in water bottles, drink bottles, or food beverage packaging. The heat emitted from the sun is enough to activate toxins that seep into its surrounding materials.
How to reduce plastic pollution?
Self-awareness: Reuse, Reduce and Recycle should be your new mantra. Sustainable change is only possible if the people of a place become responsible towards it.
Institutional changes: Government can work on regulating plastic making, availability, disposal, and recycling policies. They can ensure better ways of disposal and invest in research, manufacture and marketing of recycling & plastic alternatives.
Science has solutions to some of our Environmental problems. But, they remain in the confines of science laboratories. Let us strive to get them out of there- to the industries and into our houses.
Plastic alternatives are already there. Before they come out of the laboratories, we can use organic-leaf made, glass, or steel alternatives temporarily.