Haritima : The Environmental Society Of Hansraj College

Plastic: Waste or Wealth?

As the breeze whirlpools through the waters of the Bay of Bengal, the usual cacophony of people bustling along the coast of the eastern Andhra village of Ashwath seemed to have declined. The weekly Panchayat confluence had gripped everyone’s minds and everything else had become a secondary matter. This week’s topic of discussion resonated with each individual’s life worldwide. From juice straws to carry-baggage, from cheap armchairs to cutlery, plastic was an intrinsic entity in the livelihoods of the citizens of Ashwath.

As plastic paved its way in gradually in the twentieth century amongst the residents of globe, it became the harbinger of convenience. It was a moldable commodity which remarkably reformed industries, retail stores, markets and households equitably! Such a versatile and glorious invention— what is there to dislike? Ashwath, alike the rest of the world, embraced this raw material with open arms. Slowly and steadily, it was unimaginably ingrained in every miniscule to mighty entities in existence. From senior citizens to young infants, every person of Ashwath unknowingly grew fond of this article which had weaved the fabric of his life more comfortable than ever.

Sir Walter Scott is said to have remarked, “There is always a price to pay for advancement.” Local fisherman, Damru, sits on the weathered pier looking longingly at his tainted catch, marred with entangled plastic debris. Residents of Ashwath got hit with a gradual realization—their knight in shining armor came with an unbearable and expensive price. It was quite an antithesis to the contented way the villagers had felt about plastic. The debate began in an earnest: was plastic their wealth or simply a disguised form of waste?

Myriad villagers put forth their respective perspective forward during the Panchayat confluence. Renu, the atypical environmentalist next door, championed the ‘waste perspective.’ She argued how the non-biodegradable quality of plastic solely makes it a commodity worth prohibition. Being a coastal village, she emphasized, Ashwath ought to cease this ascending usage of plastic since it infiltrated the waters and destroyed marine life.  The microplastics were now present in every tiny foodstuff disbalancing the food chain. Renu stressed on the fact that plastic was nothing but an environmental hindrance which was a threat not only to Ashwath, but the entire planet.

The points Renu laid forth were accurate and crucial. However, Deven, the businessman, had some counter-arguments. He apprised the villagers that while plastic had its cons, this was only a one-dimensional point of view. Deven had sustainably evolved his furniture business and was a part of plastic’s re-purpose and recycle movement.  By assembling skilled craftspersons who crafted intricately beautiful furniture using upcycled plastic, he gave a new face to the global nuisance. Deven stood for plastic as a flagbearer of endless economic opportunities, if utilized the right way. Recycling, he argued, could transform waste into wealth.

The villagers found themselves at crossroads. They were convinced that they would have to choose between one: to discard plastic completely or embrace it unapologetically without any setbacks. But it was all about utilization of plastic! Soon after the confluence, educational programs in schools were initiated which taught the students the three Rs and their application on plastic. The entire village decided to adopt a comprehensive sustainable program vis-à-vis plastic. Everyone put in their best foot forward in order to showcase to the world that plastic could be ‘wealth’ in its true sense if used and re-used appropriately.

Innovative solutions started emerging all around the village as soon as this ‘Plastic Up-scale Movement’ was widespread. Plastic to fuel conversion using processes of pyrolysis and gasification got into motion in some chemical-based MNCs on the outskirts of Ashwath. With this method, plastic could be transformed into useful chemicals for fuel. Renu and her friends had a penchant for art and craft. Using the internet, they made eco-bricks for construction and other uses with the aid of Deven’s workforce. These eco-bricks were made by stuffing waste into plastic bottles and using these in flimsy techniques where hardcore bricks were not required.

The MNC adopted a remarkable approach wherein they operated computer-controlled machinery to craft three-dimensional objects by layering molten plastic. From school-going children to adults, all were extremely fascinated by this new technique which created prototypes and custom products for the industries in the city. Despite this renaissance of plastic up-scale, hurdles seldom left the path of residents of Ashwath. Some plastic products were almost impossible to recycle. Yet they left no stones unturned in using the modern technology and internet to save their environment and use plastic judiciously.

The question of whether plastic is a waste or wealth is not the one with a single answer. The tale of Ashwath is a wonderful testament of what humanity can achieve by combining will, potential, technology, innovation and education to eliminate plastic as an obstacle in an environmentally healthy earth. In the end, the tale of plastic is a story of our times, one that calls for mindful management of the materials that have reshaped our world. It is a call to rewrite the narrative, from waste to wealth, ensuring that the legacy we leave for our future generations is one of responsibility, not regret.

-Sonal Butley

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