The popularity of billiards was so high that the situation put a strain on the supply of natural ivory, obtained through the slaughter of wild elephants. There was an offer of $10,000 to anyone who could find an alternative to the precious material ivory. As a result, the first synthetic polymer was invented and the creation of plastic was hailed as a revolutionary material over the limited resources of nature. Plastic was invented and introduced as an alternative to ivory back then in 1869 to make billiards balls.
How did plastic change the world?
The invention of plastic was not kept limited. The world quickly discovered so much can be done with plastic and started manufacturing plastic abundantly. Plastic transformed every industry in the world. Over time market after market and product after product challenged natural materials and won.
The usage of plastic soon became more disadvantageous than advantageous.
Advantages of plastic:
- Flexible material - the properties of plastics render substantially greater flexibility relative to metals.
- Lighter in weight - plastic weighs very lesser than the metals, in addition, plastics reduce fuel consumption during transportation
- Lesser production cost - the cost of manufacturing polymer materials has gotten cheaper and more economical
- Insulation properties - excellent thermal and electrical insulation properties, great non-electric conductor material
- Food packaging - plastics have safe and hygienic properties and can be used for food packaging.
And the list goes on.
Plastic has become a part of human life. Now it is too hard for anyone to give up using plastic, but can be reused and recycled.
Disadvantages of Plastic:
The excessive use of plastic has a severe impact on soil, water, and humans. Let’s discuss this more in detail.
Impact on Soil - Million tons of single-use plastic that we use every day do not completely end up being recycled. Where do all these end up? On land?
Recent research by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns that agricultural soils receive greater quantities of microplastics than oceans.
The chlorinated plastics release harmful chemicals into the soil surrounding the area, this seeps into the groundwater, and other water sources too. Microplastics on soil, sediments, and water bodies will have long-term negative effects. As a result, the whole ecosystem is polluted.
The interaction of plastic with soil depends on several factors like moisture, UV, size, type of plastics, and acidity. Day by day farmers are becoming reliant on plastic materials to safeguard their crops from clement weather improve water efficiency and boost yields. This directly leads to more plastic that finds its way into the soil.
Mulching films that are used around the plants to keep the soil moist are plastic encapsulated, this mulching paper slowly releases fertilizers into the soil. Films for greenhouses, silage, protection nets, and drip irrigation are the other sources that are polluting the soil. Hence, soil pollution.
The plastic sediments disintegrate into tiny particles called microplastics that are 5 mm in size, these microplastics further break down into nanoparticles that are 0.1 mm in size. These nanoparticles easily enter the food chain, which means we are consuming nano plastics indirectly.
The world lives on food and hence we are directly dependent on soil. It is our responsibility to keep our soil fertile at least for the sake of crops that we rely on. Some innovation has to stop farmers from using mulching papers. Farmers should be educated about plastic management and manufacturers of plastics have to get cautious by switching to biodegradable plastics(fertilizer/pesticide containers) or providing circular solutions. Either use bioplastics so that the microbial activity takes place and turns into biogas or biomass or reuse the containers as many times as possible.
It was found in 2020 that the presence of microplastics affecting soil fauna leads to a decrease in species that live below the surface such as mites, larvae, earthworms, and tiny creatures that maintain the fertility of the soil.
No wonder the studies say that microplastics are found in the human body. Human exposure to microplastics can lead to oxidative stress, damage to DNA, inflammation, and many more health problems.
The Global Assessment of Soil Pollution says that the world’s population might rise by approximately 2 billion in the coming 5 years, so the reduction in soil pollution is the only key to making the progress of UN Sustainable Development Goals called SDGs.
With the world soil day coming soon in December let’s focus our attention on the importance of healthy soil and advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources.