The impact of plastic waste on the environment



Our environment is affected due to many reasons of which plastic is a primary cause. Plastic production is very high as they are very cheap and durable but are also slow to degrade as their chemical compound structure is resistant to degradation. 

Mainly we see plastic waste as primary and secondary form. Bottle Cap is an example of primary plastic and the plastic generated by primary plastic after degradation is secondary plastic.

 Plastic Debris are categorised into mainly two debris:

1. Macro-debris:in this the plastic is bigger than 6mm. Mainly it is seen in water bodies and a perfect example of this is fishing nets. Even after water pollution caused by nets, they are being still used to catch marine animals Due to this when we go to remove the net, its weight increases as it now contains garbage along with it and it becomes heavy which results in difficulty in removing it.

2. Micro-debris: Plastic under 2mm to 5mm falls into this category. Due to its smaller size it becomes difficult to stop it from spreading and when it is taken out for recycling it sometimes gets free from production due to its smaller size.

Plastic pollution can take different forms including:

•The accumulation of waste

•The accumulation of litter, micro-particles of plastics and non-biodegradable fishing nets, continue to trap wildlife and waste

• Plastic causes death of animals which further leads to waste.

•The presence of micro-plastic from cosmetic and body care products.


How plastic harms the environment 

Plastic releases harmful chemicals which leads to the contamination of the soil and can also seep into groundwater and hence can cause harm to living creatures which drink that water. Ethylene oxide, xylene, and benzene are present in plastic which can have harmful effects on our environment. As disposal of such chemicals is not easy it becomes harmful for people. 

Several additives found in plastic, such as phthalates, adipates, and even alkyl phenols, have been recognized as toxic materials. Vinyl chloride, which is used in the manufacturing of PVC pipes which is also one of the major toxic chemical.

The release of methane gas from plastic when its break down causes the greenhouse effect and which contributes to global warming.


As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide each year. Around 6.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide from 1950 to 2018, of which an estimated 9% has been recycled and another 12% has been incinerated. 80% of thermoplastics and 20% of thermoset plastic waste are generated in India which weights about 3kg of waste per person per year. Due to this the marine animals are affected as they get entangled and even consume the plastic which harms their body. Reports show that about a million sea birds and mammals due annually from ingestion of plastics.

Large scale impact on the environment due to plastic waste include:

1. The rural areas are more prone to this type of pollution and the related effects, as a majority of the people from these areas use plastic on a large scale.

2. Many stray animals end up eating plastic bags and bottles due to improper disposal systems, and this can cause their death

3. During the rainy season, the plastic rubbish that has fallen on the road gets washed away into the nearby water reservoirs, canals, and drains, leading to their choking up and overflowing. Due to this the water bodies get affected and in result harms our environment.

4. When dumped in landfills, plastic materials interact with water and form hazardous chemicals. Groundwater quality starts degrading as these accumulated waste seeps down the ground. This leads to rise of disease and can affect humans

5. Plastic pollution in marine water bodies leads to innumerable deaths of aquatic animals, and this also affects the aquatic plants to a considerable degree.

6. Plastic accumulation gives ground to mosquitoes and other harmful insects, which might cause numerous diseases.

7. Due to harmful chemicals of plastic drinking water is been contaminated and became harmful to drink.

8. Bio-accumulation of plastic inside animals is one of the most recent effects of plastic pollution. Over many years, plastic breaks down into smaller parts which leads to harmful effect on animals as they sometimes eat it. After their death, the body might decompose, but the plastic fragments may remain as a threat to other animals.

Solution to control plastic pollution:

1. REDUCE: Humans are using plastic in day to day life, for example plastic bags. There are many alternatives to plastic (cloth bag, paper bag)  that can be used. Hence we should reduce our usage of plastic.

2. REUSE: Reuse is an efficient step for reducing plastic pollution. For example: 1 plastic bag can be used again to carry our food products.

3. RECYCLE:  To reduce plastic in ocean or on land we use recycling process which helps us in controlling waste accumulation. . Old plastic can be recycled and can be used again.

4. EDUCATE: Awareness for reduction of plastic usage is a must if we want to reduce plastic waste. Hence we should educate people to change their habits of using plastic and throwing it away. Awareness about more durable and healthier alternatives to plastic can be provided. 


- Kartik Jain


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The impact of plastic waste on the environment The impact of plastic waste on the environment Reviewed by EMN on March 30, 2019 Rating: 5

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