Made of Plastic
Plastic- the miracle creation, the one discovery that made life not only
easier but also affordable and flexible- just like itself. If there has
been one invention in the human history that’s stuck in a perpetual grey
area, it has to be plastic- it embodies the perfect dilemma, can’t live
with it, and most definitely can’t live without it.
As plastic has slowly made its way into our lives from industrial use to
our homes as the humble polyethene grocery bag, it has also left not- so-
pretty footprints on the earth, water and air. It wanted so much to be a
part of our lives, that today plastic is found in the bodies of animals-
putting at risk at least 1200 species from entanglement or consumption- and
humans, sitting in the stomach and flowing through the bloodstream, making
one question, “Are we really made of plastic?”
In this blog we’ll see how plastic was created, the current situation
related to its use and disposal and its impact on our health and
The Eureka Moment
Animal lovers will most definitely rejoice to learn the inspiration for the
creation of the first plastics in the 1950s, it was created as a semi-
natural product by the reaction of cellulose from cotton with camphor- to
create a substitute for ivory and tortoiseshell use, thereby reducing the
demand for these animal-based products and sparing a lot of lives- at least
To further the strength and flexibility of plastic, completely synthetic
forms were invented (cellulose went out of the window), the first one being
Bakelite also called “the material of a thousand uses”, named after its
founder Leo Baekeland- who wanted to find a substitute for shellac (see,
plastic was indeed a blessing for animals in a way) and create better
electricity insulating materials to hasten the process of electrifying the
U.S. Plastic shifted from being a semi-natural product to a fossil fuel
The research for creating even better more flexible, durable and
transparent plastics grew at an unprecedented rate, with the production and
use of plastic products shooting up by 300% in the U.S. during World War II
with the invention of Nylon.
Today, plastic exists in a highly diverse range based on its end-use.
Ranging from bio-based, bio-degradable, engineering, epoxy resins,
expanded polystyrenes, fluoropolymers, polyolefins, polystyrenes,
polyurethanes, polyvinyl chlorides (PVC) and thermoplastics to name a few.
As plastic became the undisputed hero over the last century, one small
the detail was missed out and it was going to change the world forever- not
exactly for the better, disposal of plastic refuse started to become a
serious issue. The lack of a ‘Cradle to Grave’ approach to finding the
ultimate end for these products has left the planet littered with plastic-
just like it’s a key component, the Polymer- long unending chains of
molecules, that fail to degrade- EVER!
It is no surprise then that every single piece of plastic ever created in
human history, still exists today, with no site of any solution.
Fun fact: Plastic NEVER degrades completely, it only breaks down into
microplastics, and the latter has a nasty reputation of being the little
particles that are entering our food-web and thereby into our bodies.
Cost of One Plastic Bag
Oceans and other waterways pay the biggest cost for the existence of
plastic. A continuously degrading smog of plastic popularly known as
“Plastic Island” (the size of Texas) is floating in the North Pacific
Ocean, and as we know that plastic never degrades completely, it ends up in
the bodies of marine life and the ocean floor. The UN Clean Seas Campaign
estimates that there are 51 Trillion microplastic particles in the ocean
today- that is 500 times more than the number of stars in our galaxy! You
can see it for yourself in the documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’ Click Here
Closer home, India’s target to be a plastic-free nation by 2022 is
questionable as we continue to struggle to reduce our plastic footprint.
With an annual plastic waste production of 9.46 million tonnes, 40% of it
remaining uncollected and unprocessed, the health of our country’s land,
air and water are under serious threat. This can be increasingly witnessed
in a large number of stray cattle deaths due to consumption of plastic
from open garbage dumps- on an average approximately 45kgs of plastic is
found in the rumen of a cow or buffalo on the Indian roads, in one instance
a temple elephant used in prayers and for begging died of plastic
consumption, a whopping 750 kgs of plastic was removed from its stomach!
One can’t even begin to imagine the slow and painful death these animals
are subject to, deaths which are completely unnecessary and avoidable, only
if we would dispose of our garbage more responsibly. You have to see it to
believe it, watch “The Plastic Cow” Click Here.
The use of chemicals such as Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA) to create
better quality plastic products have endangered human lives too as these
chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors and are being increasingly linked
to hormonal issues in humans becoming a leading cause of obesity not just
in adults, but infants too!
Is There Light at the end of the Tunnel?
There is no doubt that the invention of plastic was well-intentioned, to
create something that reduced expenses, made resources accessible and
replaced animal products, it was a blessing. The lack of plastic waste
management and the addition of more synthetic chemicals to create “better”
products have to lead to serious environmental and health concerns for plastic
Governments and Organisations across the globe are encouraging the use of
plastic waste in making roads, tiles, diesel, fuel pellets and construction
material, the introduction of the ban on single-use plastic and creating
biodegradable plastics from plants are also some important steps towards
reducing the impact of plastic pollution. But these solutions do not
address the main issue of plastic production and indiscriminate use. For
the evils of plastic to be exorcised, we need dedicated individual efforts.
It is our responsibility as a consumer to make informed and conscious choices
that work towards the better health of the environment and us. A few simple
things that each one of us can do are:
Say no to the use of single-use plastic. This is the first step
towards reducing the demand for creating unnecessary plastic waste.
Once you commit to yourself to not use plastic, solutions will flow
on their own. Carry a reusable, washable bag instead. We use a
plastic bag for approximately 10 minutes, but it stays in the
environment forever, it is not easy to recycle, it enters our
waterways and it looks like jellyfish so is consumed by turtles and
other marine life. Is it worth it?
Buy local and in bulk. Plastic packaging is one of the leading
problems in the area of plastic pollution, try to reduce the amount
of packaging involved in your purchase by buying produce in bulk.
Wear natural fabrics like cotton, jute, etc instead of nylon or
spandex as these shed microplastics into the water. Where
unavoidable, don’t wash these products excessively and try washing
with a hand as far as possible to reduce excessive wear and tear.
Carry a reusable water bottle. Refuse the use of single-use
discard-able bottles and also refuse the use of straws- it is very
easy to find reusable straws online.
Make conscious product choices. Don’t buy products that claim to
have micro-beads/ plastics, these are found mainly in body, hair
and skincare products. We have such an amazing home- remedies
available to us that actually work wonders, why create so much
Use a mantra. Every time you’re about to make a purchase which has
unnecessary plastic, ask yourself, “Is this product more important
than the life of an animal?” you can totally create your own mantra
to be your guiding light.
Go Vegan. Reducing the stress on various resources by directly
cutting down on the raising, production, packaging and
transportation of meat-based products will go a long way in
tackling this issue. Remember, to save the fish, it’s important to
not eat it, instead of saying no to single-use straws!