Q) What do you mean by micro-plastic pollution? Enumerate its impact on the environment and suggest ways to reduce its prevalence. (250 Words)
GS 3: Environment
Introduction: Micro-plastics are plastic pieces of size 0.1mm to 5mm long which if engulfed by marine life can pose grave danger to them. Possibilities are even more since they easily pass through water filtration systems. They come from a variety of sources, including from larger plastic debris that degrades(UV radiation) into smaller and smaller pieces.
These can be of two types:
1. Primary microplastics are tiny particles designed for commercial use, such as cosmetics, as well as microfibers shed from clothing and other textiles, such as fishing nets.
2. Secondary microplastics are particles that result from the breakdown of larger plastic items in the open environment, such as water bottles. This breakdown is caused by exposure to environmental factors, mainly the sun’s radiation and ocean waves.
Impact on the Environment:
Its Non-biodegradable: It takes 500-1000 years to breakdown. We currently produce 380Mn Tonnes of plastic each year.
Ocean Pollution: It will outweigh all the fishes by 2050. 8Mn tonnes of plastic is dumped into oceans annually. This has led to the appearance of Gyres of Plastic in the middle of Oceans. For example in Indian ocean & Great Pacific Garbage patch(GPGP).
Bio-Accumulation: Many animals & birds die due to ingestion of indigestible trash. Microplastic is now entering food chain and our microbiology; Most of it comes from natural degradation of larger plastic wastes. They can effect our metabolisms. It may have effects on genetics. They can be carcinogenic;
Impact on Drinking Water: Centre's own estimate shows over 60% of about 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste generated daily is collected. This essentially means 10,000tonnes of trash being released into the environment. For example: Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna river systems are on the UN map of 10 rivers worldwide that collectively carry bulk of plastic waste into the oceans. Micro-plastic is now even found in drinking water.
Impact on Food security: Leaching of harmful chemicals into food chain such as Bishperol A can impact productivity.
Vector Borne Disease: They provide abundant surfaces area for colonization opportunities. In addition, these plastics are essentially rafts for organisms to travel further then they usually would, making them vectors for spreading invasive marine species.
Measures to reduce its prevalence:
Global Mechanism Needed: Since the problem is global, a global effort becomes similar to UNFCCC, Kyoto & Montreal etc. becomes necessary.
Implementation of Solid & Plastic waste management rules: Power to collect fines and regulating the waste should be delegated to the local level. Companies should submit their plans for management of waste.
Environmental Protection Act: the overarching law that enables anti-pollution rules to be issued, should be implemented in letter & spirit.
Extended Producer responsibility (EPR): The onus of disposal & recycling of products & materials is with producers, rather than government or taxpayers. Producers or consumer brands should pay for the disposal of their packaging, instead of pushing cost on to communities.
Awareness & Individual efforts: Valuable as they are, voluntary efforts cannot achieve what systematic reforms can.
Investment into Bio-plastics: They are produced from by-products of food-crops; Thus they are expensive; Compared to the conventional plastics which are derived from fossil fuels.
Greater taxation on Products with micro-beads, or composite materials: These are used in cosmetics, e.g. as exfoliating agents in facewash or in toothpaste.
Conclusion: In a recent study it was found that 11% of all species are affected by the microplastic ingestion in river Ganga. This shows that it is already a very serious problem in India, which in the recent times due to COVID pandemic, due to the use of disposable plastics have increased. The strict implementation of the Plastic waste management rules, 2017 which contains the provisions for handling of all types of plastics becomes necessary.