Dr Mukesh Kwatra
Plastic is everywhere so much so that humans are now vulnerably reliant on it. Decades of plastic use has contaminated our environment – air, water, and soil. Plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose depending on the material. For instance, plastic bottles require approximately 450 years to decompose in a landfill.
Excessive use of plastics and lack of a proper waste plastic disposal system, causes huge garbage dumps, pollution in rivers and ocean and is a threat for the ecosystems. According to studies, only 9 per cent of plastic is recycled and 79 per cent is dumped into the ocean. Let us see how some innovative tech solutions can help contain this plastic pollution
Use of Nanotechnology
Cardboard, paper etc can be used for packaging instead of plastics with the help of nanotechnology. For instance, coating cardboard with thin, water-resistant materials will prevent leaks or damage, is economical and can be recycled. Another medium through which nanotechnology can benefit us is by creating metals like aluminium and steel that are light in weight and can replace plastic.
Innovators are even looking beyond wood-pulp cardboard box to more ecological materials, including edamame beans, cocoa beans and waste hazelnuts.
Besides, nanotechnology is used for the production process of bioplastics, which is not limited to the composites, but also offers new techniques for blending polymers which results in polymers with better mechanical properties.
Natural substitutes to replace pc
Finding natural substitutes to replace plastics is another way to curb plastic pollution. Genetic engineering, the process of using DNA technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism, also helps in creating natural substitutes of plastics. Hemp, flax and jute are a few natural fibres that are being used as substitutes for plastics with the help of genetic engineering. The bonding of jute fiber cellulose and soy resin protein has been utilized to produce a sturdy bio-composite, called jute-soy, which is also biodegradable.
Another important step to reduce plastic pollution is by creating plastics that are biodegradable. They decompose either under natural conditions or by processes like chemical hydrolysis, heat, photo-degradation, or composting. Renewable biomass like starch, cellulose, protein or fossil fuels are the sources for creating biodegradable plastics. Over the years, we have been using the process of mechanical recycling in which the plastic is melted, sorted and re-moulded into lower grade products; however, this process is limited as the properties of the plastic keeps degrading after every recycle. To avoid this degradation of properties implementing the process of chemical recycling will help to break the plastic immediately at a molecular level, which ensures the plastics to be recycled into a material that is useful and can hold its properties, for example, burning polythene bags having material of polyolefins produces wax and useful fuels.
Using PLA (Polylactide)
PLA (Polylactide) is a biodegradable polymer extracted from sugarcane, corn and sugar beets. This biodegradable polymer produces lactic acid which is mostly used in industries for packaging purposes. Polylactide is also used in industries such as electronics, textiles, biomedical applications, etc. Though the production cost of using PLA in industries is high, its use benefits to replace plastic and thus deplete plastic pollution.
Effectuating packaging of recyclable plastic
The products in market today generally use plastics that are difficult to recycle. However, this can be changed by using plastic made of HDPE (High Density Polyethylene). Using this material for products like toothpaste tubes and others will help curb plastic pollution. HDPE though is not biodegradable, but it can effectively be recycled many times.
Giving rewards in return of recycling plastic is one of the innovative ways through which pollution of plastic can be reduced. Providing rewards through the medium of blockchain will motivate the individuals to change their behaviour and this in turn will help revolutionize the recycling system as it will create an impact to build an overall, circular and regenerative economy with minimal plastic pollution.
Government Policies and Support
Government support and policies are vital to curb plastic pollution. This support can take various forms. Concessional financing, aligning incentives to counteract the advantage enjoyed by the incumbent conventional plastics producers, imposing fines or taxes on their products, ensuring an effective plastic waste disposal system, etc., taking outright administrative measures, such as restricting or banning the use of conventional plastics and instead giving preference to products made with plastic substitutes and biodegradable plastics.
Dr Mukesh Kwatra founder of Smiling Tree