Plastic Waste: Impact on the Environment and Effective Solid Waste Management

Plastic Waste: Impact on the Environment and Effective Solid Waste Management

Q. “Plastic waste has a toxic impact on the environment” Discuss in the context of using effective solid waste management to counter this.

Impact of Plastic Waste


• Article in journal Science estimates 8 million tonnes of plastic being dumped in the oceans by around 192 coastal countries in 2010
• India ranked 12th among 20 most polluting countries in the world
• India has dumped 0.24 million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean on an annual basis
• Quantum of mismanaged waste totals 0.6 million tonnes
• 11 Asian nations and the US are also on the list
• Quantity of plastic waste floating in oceans is around 270,000 tonnes; Fraction of the total that reaches the ocean
• Annual input of plastic waste in the ocean is set to double by 2025


• Plastic waste contaminates shores and waterways
• Degraded plastic particles enter the food chain
• Plastic waste has grave implications for human health including cancer, developmental deficits and more
• Land based wildlife suffers from contamination effect
• Escape of plastic waste or escape of landfill leachate releases chemicals associated with plastic
• Unofficial recycling methods cause release of plastic waste linked chemicals into the environment
• Plastic waste led to the death of close to a million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals and numerous other forms of sea life according to UNEP(2006) estimates
• Around 267 species have suffered from the adverse impact of plastic waste according to studies
• Plastic bags can be ingested by animals and lead to adverse effects such as death and distress
• Problems such as the Pacific trash vortex develop. This is a gyre or vortex of marine litter in the Pacific ocean’s northern part. Many other water bodies across the world suffer from plastic waste
• Excessively high concentrations of suspended plastics trapped by currents exert negative impact on marine habitats
• Plastic takes years to break down in landfill and only a small proportion of plastic bags can be reprocessed
• High rates of ingestion and entanglement have been discovered in several species of seals, sea lions and other sea creatures
• Ingestion has been reported in several marine organisms including fish, zooplankton and mussels
• UNEP report holds that 130,000 cetaceans are caught in plastic nets per annum
• More than 100 species of sea birds have also been found to ingest plastic waste
• Increase in marine litter = increase in species invasion
• Hard surface of plastic debris is a surface for creation of non-endemic species which poses a threat to indigenous species
• Environmental damage has resulted due to plastic waste; damage to critical habitats such as coral reefs
• Chemical contamination is yet another problem as invasive species are spread by plastic fragments
• Economic damage is a corresponding result through impact on fishing and tourism industry
• Concern over microplastics- these are particles close to 5 mm in diameter which are manufactured or created in case plastic breaks down
• Communities of microbes have thrived on microplastics and pathogens are created as a result of this
• Production trends, use patterns and shifting demographics have changed for the worse leading to record levels of pollution and contamination

Greenhouse Gases and Plastic Waste

• According to reports, 10 lightweight plastic bags used each week over a period of 2 years can total 3 times the GHG impact of a reusable plastic bag
• Such bags also consume 4.5 times additional energy in manufacture than reusable green bags

B. Effective Solid Waste Management

For Companies

• Companies need to watch their plastic footprint, much like forest cover, GHG emissions, water levels and carbon concentration in the air
• Should measure, manage and report plastic use
• Mitigate the risks and increase the opportunities
• Work towards sustainable practices
• Plastic use has to be monitored and results have to be published via annual reports
• Commitment to reduce ecological impact of plastic via established targets and deadlines; innovation that cuts down on plastic use and promotes resource efficiency as well as recycling
• Need for corporate awareness programmes to encourage effective solid waste management
• Apps to allow consumers to check the plastic content in manufactured products
• Connect the dots when it comes to accumulation and delivery of toxins via the food web to fill knowledge gaps
• Understand the link between plastics and creation of bio-accumulating chemicals
• Peg a financial value on impact of plastic waste
• Proactive approach the key to sustainable development

For the Government

• Policies and products aimed at reducing per capita plastic waste generation
• Reduction in the amount of mismanaged waste through better solid waste management techniques
• Opt for means other than recycling alone
• India dumps huge amounts of plastic waste into the ocean despite generation of small amount of waste per person ; estimates peg it as 3% of 0.34 kg per person a day of solid waste generated
• Huge population offsets low plastic consumption in the nation
• Single use plastic bags should be banned or at least made more costly

For Citizens

• Avoid using plastic bags in general; use cloth shopping bags
• Avoid plastic packages items
• Check for produce and items which are over-packaged
• Opt for food sold in glass receptacles and containers
• Don’t opt for bottled water; choose reusable canteens instead
• Up-cycle and recycle; the latter involves using old plastic items rather than discarding them or purchasing fresh ones
• Opt for reusable mugs
• Avoid non-biodegradable disposable tableware
• Do not discard electronics; repair or upgrade devices instead of purchasing new ones
• Always bring the container for leftovers or take-outs instead of opting for plastic ones


Reducing, recycling and redesigning the products using plastics can generate multiple economic benefits. From boosting corporate profits to reducing economic damage and preventing negative impact on the environment, regulation of plastic usage and effective solid waste management has a lot of benefits. The mantra needs to be be “reuse, reduce and recycle” and the beneficial effects will surely follow.
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