ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Living in the Plastic Age

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This is with reference to the editorial, “Mounting Plastic Waste” (EPW, 19 October 2019). The invention of the first man-made plastic, Bakelite, by Belgium chemist Leo Hendrick Baekeland in the early 20th century was hailed as a miracle invention. By the early 21st century, plastic has gone from a miracle material to an unnatural disaster. In the new millennium, plastic and human life are inseparable. We are now living in the plastic age.

A report in Scientific Advances, 2017, estimated that a mind-boggling 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics have been generated since the beginning of the plastic era, and a majority of it has just been discarded. This plastic, if spread out, is enough to cover Argentina, the eighth largest country in the world. Microplastics, having a size less than 5 milimetre, from plastic debris are making their way to our food chain. A 2014 report in Environmental Science & Technology suggests that zooplanktons, small marine animals, mistake microplastics for food. The zooplanktons are consumed by other larger species resulting in biomagnification in the aquatic chain and exposing them to hazardous chemicals. Moreover, once plastics reach the ocean, they do not simply sink. The lightweight nature of plastics makes them float near the water surface. Consequently, sea organisms get entangled therein.

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