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The truth about plastics

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The truth about plastics

Friday, 28 December 2018 | Navneet Anand

Plastic is bad for the environment but the virgin variant can be recycled for road surfacing. The challenge for our country is to beat perceptions

Winston Churchill had once rightly said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.” Dr Rajagopalan Vasudevan, a professor of Chemistry at Madurai’s Thiagarajar College of Engineering, is one such person of courage. At a time when there exists a predominant perception that plastic is bad, he stuck his neck out, asking people to re-think. On the ongoing public discourse on banning plastic, Vasudevan is of the view that planning, and not banning, should be the way forward. He cited multiple reasons for this. Indeed, it was delightful to meet him at a Fijeeha workshop titled, ‘Is All Plastic Bad’ in Madurai last week. Also known as the plastic man of India, who was also conferred with Padma Shri in 2018, Vasudevan said, “Not all plastics are bad. Such negative perceptions about plastic have adversely affected not just the industry but public discourse, too. It’s the culture of disposal and throwing away that created the problem.” By developing a special technology, Vasudevan demonstrated that plastic can judiciously be re-used.

Vasudevan invented an eco-friendly technology that helps create roads by re-using plastic wastes. “Use of waste plastic for road construction offers many advantages, including ease and low dependence on machineries. It also reduces on-site production costs. For every kilo of stone, 50 gms of bitumen is used and one-tenth of it is plastic waste. This reduces the amount of bitumen to be used. Plastic increases aggregate impact value and improves the quality of flexible pavements. Wear and tear on the roads, too, can be minimised using this technology.” Having patented this technology, Vasudevan remains hopeful that Governments across the country will embrace this technology judiciously.

Fijeeha’s campaign ‘PLASTIC’ or Plastic Targeted Information Communication is designed to create awareness about plastic and dispel myths attached with it. The Government’s announcement on the elimination of single-use plastic by 2022 on World Environment Day this year was greeted with glee by many. However, it is faced with the challenge to beat perceptions about plastic being a material. While elimination of single-use or thin plastic that are used as carry bags across the country, is much needed, it should not create confusion about other forms of plastic. There are many plastics that are good and can be recycled as well. And not all plastic products end up in landfills. In fact, many companies are working responsibly on recycling and driving awareness.

In an attempt to curb plastic waste, Nestle India launched a ‘MAGGI Wrappers Return’ scheme. Under this programme, for every 10 empty wrappers of Maggi noodles returned, customers are offered a free packet of Maggi noodles. The project is running on a pilot basis in Dehradun and Mussoorie. Earlier this year, PepsiCo, too, announced its decision to launch the first-ever 100 per cent compostable, plant-based packaging for Lay’s and Kurkure snack products. RAW Pressery collects pet bottles from homes, stores and rag-pickers in Mumbai and recycles them. It has partnered with another firm to break down and convert plastic to yarn or filaments, much like cotton, to make clothes for domestic use. Tupperware has taken back over one crore finished goods which came to the brand for replacement. The products thus collected are recycled responsibly and used in non-food applications.

The MD of a plastic container and goods company said that there was indeed a lot of misinformation around plastic as many people do not understand the difference between single-use and re-usable variants. There is a tendency to see all plastic products as equal, and that is not the case. Some companies make sure that their products are made with high quality, durable, 100 per cent virgin plastic that is designed for extended use. Some companies even promise to take back used containers and attempt an industrial re-use of it.

Dr Sanjay K Gupta, a waste management expert from Switzerland, said, “Life without plastic is virtually impossible. There is obviously a perception that all plastic is the same but it is only the disposable kind that harms the environment. But the material itself is not to blame, rather it is the way human beings deal with disposable plastic which becomes the real cause for concern.” B Ravi, Director, Central Institute of Plastic Engineering and Technology, Madurai said, “It is the mindset of a generation which refuses to re-use. Instead of allocating budgets on advertising to stop plastic use, it would be far more useful to divert that money and create centres for collection of plastic bags.” What is needed is a series of awareness strategies to build a culture of re-use and a gradual phasing out of the widespread rollout of plastic products.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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