Image via The News Minute
A road in Guwahati was recently constructed using 1.24 MT of plastic waste. The technology was invented by the ‘Plastic Man’ of India, Rajagopalan Vasudevan, Professor of Chemistry at Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai.
Even more exciting: India has built one lakh kilometres of roads across 11 states using discarded plastic. Plastic roads are considered to be more durable against extreme weather conditions as compared to the conventional roads, points a report by World Economic Forum.
However, as Nityanand Jayaraman says, “this intervention is not a solution.” In his article for The News Minute, he writes that “End-of-pipe interventions contribute to the perpetuation of the problem”- meaning that by focusing on ‘managing’ plastic waste, we are ignoring the fact that while the waste is the problem, it is by no means what needs to be fixed.
Why does plastic pose the biggest waste disposal problem? Because this is a completely non-biodegradable material that has become ubiquitous in our lives today. In fact, you know how we teach kids about the Stone Age, Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age in history class? Forget the digital age: the post-war world should be called the Plastic Age.
Think of this: the very first piece of plastic ever made is still around- knowing what gremlins humans are, it’s probably floating around the seas now, or maybe it’s been swallowed by some unsuspecting whale. Just livin’ the waste plastic life.
What we need is something far more inconvenient: we need to find ways to phase out plastics in our daily life. In India, around 43% of manufactured plastics are used for packaging, and most are single-use. Despite a TERI report claiming that maximum plastic waste is generated by households, it would be wrong to charge those to the household account, so to speak. Manufacturers and e-commerce companies must find a sustainable and quickly biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic, even if that means scaling down operations to the point where these alternatives can become truly viable.
Be it going back to banana leaves in food deliveries, or investing in bioplastics, delivery and manufacturing companies need to have a serious sit-down with the reality that their operations and business practices are hastening our march towards a dead planet. We need to focus on gradually reducing and eventually eliminating plastic usage and therefore production altogether- measures like plastic roads that use the waste give them impression that now that we can ‘manage’ the waste, the problem is taken care of.
No. Plastic waste is not the problem. Plastic itself is.