Will the World Find and Make Use of Cheaper Biodegradable Plastic?

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Definition of biodegradable plastic

Plastic is non-biodegradable because of the presence of impure resin that contains heavy metal ions. If heavy metals are avoided and pure resin is used in preparation of plastic, then it will be biodegradable and will not be opposed by the environmentalists. Bacteria present in the soil will be able to eat such a plastic in reasonable time. Such a kind of environment-friendly plastic items are increasingly being used now-a-days. As awareness about such products spreads, the world will be relieved of a great burden of how to manage plastic items. The definition of biodegradable plastic in India is that more than 90% of the organic carbon in the plastic should be converted into carbon dioxide within six months and the plastic should degrade fully without leaving any remainders in the compost. Most of the carbon present is given back to the nature by aerobic decomposition by bacteria present in the soil.

Paper bags are not energy efficient

If a material is biodegradable, it does not mean it is energy efficient also. It may be or it may not be. For example paper bags are biodegradable. But they are not energy efficient. They require lot of energy in recycling. Biodegradable plastic is as durable and strong as non-biodegradable plastic. But the cost of a biodegradable plastic bag is three to five times the cost of a non-biodegradable plastic bag. But prices will fall once huge capacities are built up and competition starts in the industry.

Tamil Nadu banning plastics?

There were reports that the Tamil Nadu State government was considering banning of plastic bags. But so far no legislation has been passed by the State Assembly in this regard. Central government has already banned use of plastic bags below 40 microns thickness. There were reports that the Tamil Nadu government would go one step further and ban plastic bags of less than 60 microns thickness. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board is expected to draft the rules.

Plastics are used in DVDs and CDs

Plastics have become an integral part of our daily existence. Buckets, vessels, cups and saucers and many other items are made of plastic. Even the chair we use is made of plastic. An iron chair or cot can rust in due course. But plastic chair will not corrode. It will last for many years. Plastic is a by-product of the petrochemical industry. Water bottles, moulded furniture, containers, luggage, water tanks, appliances, DVDs, CDs, waterproofing, computer hardware, sheeting, grocery bags, car upholstery and many other things come in plastics. You name it and it will be available in plastic. It all began in India in 1957 with the production of polystyrene. Low Density Poly Ethylene (LDPE) came in 1959, Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) in 1961, High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE) in 1968 and polypropylene in 1978.

Plastic industry is booming

Plastic industry is booming all over the world. Small business units profitably engage themselves in manufacture of plastic products as it requires very little technology and investment. Various plastic products are produced through blow moulding, injection moulding, calendaring and extrusion techniques. More and more units enter into the plastic industry every year. Excess capacity is no problem as growing demand nullifies it quickly. Today, plastic industry is a Rs.85000 crore turnover industry in India. It employs directly and indirectly 3.5 million workers. Government earns a revenue or Rs.7300 crore every year from the plastic industry. Plastic production is expected to increase to 13 million tonnes by 2012. The per capital consumption of plastic in India is eight kilogram. It is expected to double in five years. The world average is 23 kg. USA has a per capita plastic consumption of 80 kg and China has 17 kg.

China artificially keeps Yuan depreciated against dollar

China is a big competitor to India in export of plastic items. China invoices its products in US dollars to the extent of 75%, in Euros to the extent of 15% and in pound starlings to the extent of 10%. China keeps its currency Yuan artificially depreciated so that no other country can compete with it. But India has found new markets like CIS countries of the former Soviet Union, Africa and Latin American countries. Now that the rupee is also depreciating, plastic exporters are benefited a great deal. More than 2000 firms are engaged in the export of plastic products in India. China is dumping its plastic products in Indian market also. If the government and the industry keep quiet, very soon Indian markets will be flooded with Chinese wares.

PAN dumping into India

There were allegations of dumping of PAN by South Korea, Taiwan and Israel into India. PAN (phthalic anhydride) is an anhydride of phthalic acid. Anhydride means the product obtained when water molecule is removed from the original substance. PAN is manufactured by catalytic oxidation of ortho-xylene or naphthalene and it is used as an important chemical intermediary in plastic industry. PAN is also used in manufacturing other products like alkyd resins, polyester resins and unsaturated polyester resins. These products are used in lacquers, paints, dyes and pigments. Several Indian companies like Mysore Petrochemicals Ltd, IG Petrochemicals Ltd, SI Group India Ltd and Thirumalai Chemicals Ltd demanded levying of anti-dumping duties on PAN dumped by other countries in India.

Storing food in plastic is not healthy

Central government has banned use of plastic sachets for selling and storing gutkha, pan masala and pan. The government has also banned use of recycled plastic for packing food stuff. Before this ban, many children were taking their afternoon food in plastic lunch boxes to schools. Keeping food in plastic containers for hours together is not healthy. The chemicals will cause defective digestive system and other complaints in children in due course. Plastic producers in India have demanded a 10% export duty on polymers, a key element for the production of plastics. They complaint that because of the export of polymers, its availability for the domestic manufacturers is reduced.

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