Are plastics banned? Not really so!

In this age of eco-friendliness ‘green’ attempt to atmosphere, pollution control awareness, recycling sense, waste management, the positive attempts made by plastic bag extruders and printers are explored by D Ramalingam (DR) in conversation with Rajendra Mehta, chairman, Public Awareness, The Tamil Nadu Plastics Manufacturers Association and partner, Multiplex - a successful and award winning plastics carry bags printer. Plastics Carry Bags NAuspiciousness permeates the atmosphere in a typical wedding at a marriage hall in Chennai from the time you enter the premises in the morning and leave the same after lunch. What does it to do with our subject of plastics? Almost all the halls pronounce on their wall boards. ‘We do not use plastics here’ and even ‘Usage of plastics is banned’ albeit in few halls. Talking of auspicious way of thanks giving, when you leave the marriage hall, you are given a carry bag containing a coconut, a few betel leaves and betel nuts. The marriage caterers have totally turned to cloth or paper board bags. But still, the small packet containing beedas are of thinner plastics. That takes us to Rajendra Mehta to know about thinness, thickness, recycling, pollution control, usage of plastics and related matters.

DR: Congratulations to you for winning the ‘Gold Award’ and ‘Best in Show Award’ at Asian Flexographic Technical Association.

Mehta: Thanks, we have proved ourselves courtesy and our team efforts within the organization.

DR: On one side, there is a talk of plastics ban and the other side you are a thriving plastics printer. How do you explain it?

Mehta: We are conscious of our social responsibility. All our customers are told about correct usage, with approved thickness of plastics. We encourage our customers to use bags with minimum thickness of twenty microns as against five microns previously.

DR: How do you judge whether plastics are eco-friendly in relation to other materials?

Mehta: Plastindia Foundation’s Enviroplast Committee developed a model or criteria, which may be used for qualifying materials as eco-friendly. The material or product in question should:

  1. improve the quality of life, particularly of the economically weaker sections of society.
  2. reduce significantly the pollution load on the environment – land, water and air – in relation to materials that are replaced or substituted.
  3. use of non-renewable energy resources more efficiently.
  4. contribute to the preservation of land, water resources and forests.
  5. lend itself to recycling and/or recovery of a significant part of the inherent energy.

Rajendra Mehta DR: Are paper and cloth bags better alternatives to plastic bags?

Mehta: If plastic bag/packaging is replaced altogether with traditional material like paper, cloth, jute, metal etc, it would lead to major penalty by way of economics. This would lead to phenomenal increase in weight of packaging to 300 percent, volume of waste to 160 percent, energy requirement to 110 percent, costs of packaging to 210 percent. Hence, there are no eco-viable alternatives to plastics in modern society.

DR: How eco-friendly is paper?

Mehta: It is globally fifth largest consuming segment of energy, requires ten percent of all industry energy consumption, four percent of world energy consumption and one of the largest users of water. One metric tone of paper (7000-8000 copies of news paper) requires ten to seventeen trees. Paper cannot be recycled indefinitely; maximum four times recycling is possible. Recycling is also energy intensive process and requires chemicals for bleaching/deinking. It has been rated medium in biodegradability with associated hazards like leachates. Paper imposes heavy burden on environment. If we do not ban paper, why ban plastics? (Source: The World Resources Foundation, UK)

DR: Can you tell us about reuse of plastics?

Mehta: This industry has already formed Indian Centre for Plastic in the Environment (ICPE), an autonomous national body registered under Societies Act, with a seed capital of rupees two crore on recommendation of task force constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) to handle all issues related to plastics and environment in the country.

ICPE hels sustain an environment-friendly image of plastics by highlighting the positive role of plastics in conserving resources and its 100 percent recyclability.

Since the year 2005-06, ICPE has been propagating on the usefulness of utilization of plastics waste for the construction of asphalt roads through its newsletters and various seminars, exhibitions and workshops throughout the country. The successful trial of construction a stretch of 1.5 km asphalt road in Kalyani Municipality (near Kolkata) was reported in earlier ENVIS newsletter. Encouraged by this success and due to keen follow-ups by Indian Platics Federation (IPF), Kolkata, another two municipalities near Kolkata came forward to construct such roads in their areas. ICPE provides on-the-field support and assistance for the construction.

On January 27, 2010, Cochin Corporation under the supervision of BPCL has constructed a stretch of asphalt road using plastics waste at Kaloor-Manapatty road. The plastics waste was shredded by CREDAI under ‘Clean Kochi’ movement for road tarring.

City mayor and other officials of the civic authority were present during the construction period. The demonstration brought confidence among all that plastics waste which is otherwise difficult for recycling could be utilized for road construction. The organizers used, among other types of waste, shredded PS foam (Expanded Polystyrene) waste for the construction of asphalt road.

Thus, it can be concluded that plastics is not a taboo: the usage of plastics is increasing, from tooth brushes to motor cars, refrigerators, laptops and electronic equipments. Public awareness and their co-operation in segregation at source is the need of the hour. The governments (central and state) and plastic industries efforts to remove the misconception about plastics and also educate about the use of thicker varieties of plastic in place of thinner ones are commendable.

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