Plastics have found a space in our day to day lives because of its convenience and easy to dispose nature. Right now, we are in the midst of a pandemic. In general, it is seen that there is a preference towards using disposables especially when outdoors.
For example, while eating from a restaurant or a roadside eatery, it is common to see that people are reluctant to use reusable steel or ceramic plates and utensils and favour disposable items. This is generally due to a fear of virus contamination from a previous user or from people handling the utensils. This fear is not just restricted to the user but also affects the restaurant staff. This is not just out of fear of the virus. It much more convenient for the staff to simple to use and throw plastic items instead of adopting an intense and thorough washing and sterilising of plates and cutlery is a requirement.
But are these plastic items completely free from risk of contamination? Of course not. Staff still handle the plates and glasses and they still can get contaminated by either the user or the staff. In addition to this, these plastic items are not even washed or cleaned before use and so if the items were not packed in 100% sanitised conditions, they can be even more dangerous.
People are also moving towards home delivery and grocery delivery services. Plastics are increasing being used for packaging materials. This includes not only plastic bags and plastic wraps but also aluminium foil, metal laminated plastic covers. It is to be noted that several food delivery services had moved towards more sustainable packing like cardboard and paper packing, monsoon season has made it difficult for them to use such items. In addition, the move towards food delivery was abrupt for most eateries and they may not have been able to procure sustainable packing.
People have also been purchasing grocery through home delivery services, and supermarkets are also using additional packing for vegetables and fruits to reduce contamination. All this is causing increase in plastic waste being generated in households on a day to day basis. In addition to use of household items, there is also an increase in use of medical disposables like facemasks, gloves, plastic face shields etc. In some cases, PPE kits are also being used by common man when he feels that he has a risk of exposure to the virus, for e.g. while travelling by air planes. These items are being generated on very large scale and what is even more alarming is that these items are being disposed in a very careless manner. It has now become a common sight to see masks and gloves disposed at roadsides and in road side drains. This poses a health risk and also contributes to blocking of drainage ways which leads to stagnant water which serves as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. They also block flows and can be a cause of flooding during heavy rains.
There is also an increased use of sanitisers, disinfectants, disinfectant wipes and similar products. The disposal of the item post use is also contributing to the mounting wastes.
In the recent past, there was a significant effort from the government and local governing bodies by placing ban on plastics. Infact several districts in Kerala itself had moved towards ‘plastic free zones’ by placing complete bans on the use of plastics. Several shopping giants including super markets, retail shops, and several others have stopped providing free plastic covers and packing along with purchases, and now are providing either paper bags or jute bags which are sometimes chargeable. Also, restaurants and hotels have been moving towards plastic free systems. But this pandemic is having the effect of completely undoing all the efforts taken in this regard.
- Plastics and disposable are now being generated at larger rates making it difficult to manage these wastes
- All plastics are not recyclable. Recyclable plastics include polyethylene terephthalate (PET) commonly used for mineral water bottles, soft drink bottles etc, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and some Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) like pipes and tubes. Non-recyclable plastics includes Polypropylene used in food containers, Polystyrene including thermocols and similar items, and other items like nylon, acrylics etc. Most plastics can be identified by a number enclosed within a triangle on the item. Items having number 1 and 2 are usually recyclable and higher the number, the more difficult it is to recycle it
- Several municipalities and Kudumbasree organisations are collecting plastics for a nominal fee. Such activities needs to be promoted and encouraged
- Several packing plastics are tetra packs, aluminium foil coated plastic, foil coated paper plates, paper cups with plastic coating, etc all belong to compound/hybrid plastics and these cannot be recycled
- There is a significant carelessness and lack of awareness on part of people and they have been disposing gloves and masks on roadsides and in canals. This is no less than a crime and should be punishable, remember Polluter Pays!
- Waste collectors and municipality cleaners are exposed to these carelessly disposed masks/gloves and disposals, increasing their risks to virus infections
- A lot of effort had gone into creating sustainable habits and discouraging people from using disposables. Now there is a fear that this pandemic will bring back old habits and make it even more difficult to correct as now people will have an additional fear of other communicable diseases.
|1||Spreading knowledge that use of disposable during this pandemic is not a good approach. Giving sufficient awareness to people that these ‘disposable’ items are not completely free from virus contamination and only add only to an increasing environmental problem|
|2||Thorough washing and sterilising of steel plates and utensils. Dishwashing machines may also be used but this will lead to an increase in electricity consumption|
|3||Encourage people to carry their own plates at least cutlery and the restaurant may provide facilities for the customers to wash these after use|
|4||Compulsory use of masks, gloves and hairnets by staff. This again will cause an increase in disposal of these items. But in this case, the use of such items is essential and cannot be avoided. However, it may be possible to minimise use of disposable utensils and cutlery|
|5||Encouraging use of cloth masks wherever possible especially by common persons during their daily movement. This does not include medical personnel|
|6||Encourage use of cloth bags that can be washed and reused. In addition, charges for plastic bags may be increased so that people will be encouraged to bring their own. This is already in practice in several shops. This should not be stopped during this pandemic and infact it needs to be encouraged even more|