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Plastic Pollution: A major current problem

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Rivers clogged with plastics have become a usual sight across countless urban areas of Nepal. It causes severe damage to the ecosystem from directly disrupting the aquatic space of the river to entering our body in the form of micro-plastics.

Plastics are made from natural, organic materials such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and crude oil. Due to the slow degradation rate of plastics, they persist in the environment for a long period of time and end up polluting land and water sources.   

Toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (BCPs) are released upon burning of plastics materials which poses threats to vegetation, human health and animal health.

Phthalates, released by plastics are strong endocrine disruptors, associated with a plethora of health problems. They are known to cause fertility issues and neonatal impacts on babies to allergies and asthma. The black carbon soot released during burning of plastic contributes to climate change and air pollution.

Other than this, plastic items are directly ingested by cattle’s, birds, fishes and other marine organisms that results in their death.     

Plastics are classified into seven major types and can be identified by their respective resin codes represented by numbers (1-7) which is stamped on all of the plastic products.

Seven standard classifications for plastics, and their recycling and reuse information based on the resin codes:

  1. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) 

One of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products, PET is used to make most water and pop bottles, including some packaging. PET products are intended for single use applications as its repeated use increases the risk of leaching of carcinogens and bacterial growth. PET should be recycled but not reused.

  1. HDPE(High Density Polyethylene) 

HDPE is stiff plastic that is used to make detergent and oil bottles, milk jugs, toys, and some plastic bags.  It is also used to make picnic tables, plastic lumber, waste bins, park benches, bed liners for trucks and other products which require durability and weather-resistance. HDPE is one of the most commonly recycled plastic because of the recycling process being cost effective and simple.

  1. PVC( Polyvinyl Chloride) 

PVCs are soft, flexible plastic which are used to produce plastic food wrapping, cooking oil bottles, teething rings, children’s and pet’s toys, and blister packaging for myriad of consumer products. Sheathing material for computer cables, plastic pipes and plumbing parts are made out of PVC.

Dubbed as “poison plastics”, PVC contains numerous toxins that leach out throughout its entire life cycle.

PVC products are not recyclable and should not be reused with food or for children’s use.

  1. LDPE( Low- Density Polyethylene)

Often found in shrink wraps, dry cleaner garment bags, squeezable bottles, grocery bags, LDPE is considered less toxic than other plastics and so relatively safe for using.

LDPE products are reusable but aren’t always recyclable. Consider checking with your local collection service to see it they accept LDPE plastic items for recycling

  1. PP(Polypropylene) 

With its tough and light weight characteristics, PP has excellent heat resistance qualities. PP is used for disposable diapers, pails, plastic bottles, margarine, yogurt containers, potato chip bags, straws, packing tap. Polypropylene is considered safe for reuse and can be recycled multiple times.

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  1. PS(Polystyrene) 

PS has wide variety of uses as it is inexpensive, lightweight, and easily formed. Commonly made PP products are disposable foam drinking cups, take-out “clamshell” food containers, egg cartons, plastic picnic cutlery, foam packaging. 

It can leach styrene which is a possible human carcinogen. PP is not commonly recycled.

  1. Other

Any plastic type that does not fit into the above mentioned category falls under this category. This category is designed as a catch-all for polycarbonate and other plastics. There is no standard protocols for reusing and recycling this type of plastics. 

Plastic pollution has exceeded all limits with its presence in air, water, land and entering into animal and the plant bodies. It is time we be more mindful of our actions and help reduce the burden of plastic in the environment. Each individual should be make contributions to fight against plastic pollution by making smart choices in their daily lives.

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