PLASTIC POLLUTION: ANOTHER THREAT TO THE MOTHER EARTH
Human ingenuity has continued to change the annals of human history. Since the era of the Stone Age, human knowledge has substantially grown in leaps and bounds (beyond imaginable boundaries) such that what was hitherto considered inconceivable is today an event to reckon with. Judging from this perspective, it can be fairly concluded, that man has explored nature to such an extent that nature is subjected to his whims and caprices. This assertion aligns with the disposition of Vidal de la Blache, a French Geographer when centuries ago he advanced the concept of determinism. The concept demonstrates that everywhere exist possibilities; and man, as a master of these possibilities, is the judge of their use, thus man becomes the master of its destiny. True to this statement, it would be moderate to maintain that man remains an eternal Judge of the mother earth. The question that comes to mind however, is whether man has been a fair Judge in his court – environment.
Environmental pollution is not a new theme of discussion both in the academia and at the informal learning terrain as it is commonly a subject of household discussion and as long as man dwells within the planet earth, it would continued to be engaged and as consistently as possible about environmental matters as such issues are nearer to us than we ever imagine. Today, every man has an idea of what it means when discussing a polluted environment, such discussion revolves around, water pollution, soil pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, and what a view. Added to these forms of pollution is another nature threatening development – regarded as plastic pollution. The other forms of pollution as mentioned has been with humanity from Adam with varying degree of impacts especially with increasing human population coupled with increased quest for materialism. The new form of pollution is beginning to raise its ugly head against the mother earth, thus, a source of concern to all, regardless of sentiments.
What then, is plastic pollution and how is it threatening human existence?
Plastic pollution is the building up of plastic materials or objects ranging from plastic bottles, bottle caps, plastic bags, plastic trays, plastic containers, food packaging film and much more in the earth’s environment. Such accumulation concentrates on land and water bodies and adversely affects the soil, underground water, wildlife, wildlife habitat and humans.
Plastic pollution is categorized based on their sizes including micro, meso, or macro pollutants. Plastics are generally affordable and highly resistant to degradation (it is said that it takes about a century for an average plastic to degrade). These dual advantages give credence to the benefits which plastic enjoys over other pollutants which invariably have led to its high production. It is estimated that about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated every year (UN Environment Report 2018). Disposed plastics eventually find their way into the water bodies – the streams, rivers and ocean. Plastic waste is now so common in the natural environment that scientists have observed, though with dismay, that it could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era.
Composition of plastics
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): found in water bottles, dispensing containers and biscuit trays.
High—density polyethylene (HDPE): found in shampoo bottles, milk bottles, freezer bags and ice cream containers.
Low—density polyethylene (LDPE): found in Bags, trays, containers and food packaging film. Polypropylene (PP): found in Potato chip bags, microwave dishes, ice cream tubs and bottle caps.
Polystyrene (PS): found in Cutlery, plastic plates and plastic cups.
Expanded polystyrene (EPS): found in Protective packaging, hot drink cups, etc.
Effects of plastic Pollutants on the environment
The effects of plastic pollution are far reaching as its repercussions are becoming increasingly dotted on the human landscape. It renders the soil infertile, making them agriculturally unproductive as it reduces the rate of aeration and infiltration into the soil especially the non biodegradable plastics. The most affected ecosystem as observed today in this regard is the aquatic system, which is made up of 70% of the earth’s landmass. The UN Report (2018) asserts that ten (10) water bodies including Niger, Indus, Nile, Amur, Mekong, Zhujiang, etc. are responsible for 90% of the sources of plastic pollutants which eventually ends up in our ocean where higher proportion of our aquatic organism especially fish species make their living. These organisms can become entangled (inability to move freely within the water environment) in circular plastic packaging materials, synthetic fishing nets and ropes, etc. and these are factors which have been responsible for the deaths of many marine organisms, such as fish, seals, turtles, and birds. Plastic pollutants also have the potential to poison animals, which subsequently affects human food supplies through the food web. Plastic pollution has been described as being highly detrimental to marine mammals, such as sea turtles, which have been found to contain large proportions of plastics in their stomach. When this occurs, the animal typically starves, because the plastic blocks the animal’s digestive tract. When fish feed on these plastics, they eventually end up on man’s table in the hotels, restaurants, and in the household, thus transferring the poison to man. Plastic bags can also clog sewers and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and pests, consequently increasing the transmission of vector-borne diseases like malaria. The foregoing underscores the dangers that stand before the destiny of men.
As observed, the mother earth has been placed in the care of man, how has man fared in this regard is the fundamental question that curious minds seek answer. Just like every living organism reacts when pushed to the wall (the level at which its resilience is being overstretched) so also the mother earth does – the mother earth is considered as a living system. An environmentalist once averred: “when man offends God, he forgives because He is known as a merciful God. When man offends man, sometimes man can decides to forgive, at other times he retaliates. Nature however, operates a distinct version, as it pays man in the same coin by which it was treated; it is similar to what is regarded as the “law of Karma”. Karma is known for its non-partisan and objectivity in transacting business with man and nature. Its transaction is devoid of cronyism, ethnicity, and the man-know-man syndrome that is prevalent in our world.
Time is running out and an urgent call is made to the consciousness of man to wake up to the responsibility of upholding the trust that divinity has entrusted to him. Worthy to mention that, it is not out of place for man to be confronted with new and sometimes daunting challenges as society continually evolves, what is out of place however, is to lack the necessary commitment and wherewithal to addressing these concerns.
The first step in the right direction therefore, is to address the question of production from the source, that is, the production points. Meaningful efforts channeled in this direction are certain to yield substantial results, thus, relevant environmental agencies are to see to it that manufacturers adopt alternative and environmentally friendly approach. In line with this, recycling should be given prominence by encouraging households and individuals to avoid indiscriminate disposal and ensure that disposable plastics are re-used and recycled. To ensure compliance and sustainability in this regard, adherers should be compensated by giving tax holiday to companies and monetary exchange for individuals and families who make “plastics return” to the companies.
Secondly, individuals should begin to take personal responsibilities towards environmental issues, by developing the mindset that we have no other place to live or survive except the one which we currently occupy – the earth. Such changes include rejecting plastics at the hotels, restaurants, provision stores, events or occasions and other places that plastics glare at us. This paradigm shift would not only ensure environmental posterity, but it will create a place worthy for all to live.
The third position has to do with enlightenment of the populace (about the dangers inherent in the consumption of non biodegradable plastics and the need to adopt better and alternative usage). This should be carried out by employing available means of mass media communication (verbal and non-verbal) to reaching out to the populace. In addition to this, campaign should also focus on addressing the unceasing quest for materialism in the society. This is to bring home the very fact that a society that is not informed is deformed.
Fourthly, countries of the world are linked together more than ever in an ecosystem; generally referred to as global village. It is a clarion call therefore, for global community particularly the environmental organizations such as United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP),Earth System Governance Project (ESGP), Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), etc. to increase their tempo in ensuring legislation compliance and sanctions to erring countries. The place of such global efforts cannot be overstretched in making the earth a safer place.
In conclusion, we have evolved as a society into a time where activities of individuals, groups or society cannot be overlooked; it beckons on all concerned stakeholders therefore, (individuals, groups, society and organizations) to ensure that we are not consumed in the spirit of determinism.