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Lesser plastics for a better future


Plastic, plastic, everywhere!

Plastics are everywhere; on the sole of your shoes, as the steering wheel of your car; your camera body and film, the midday coffee cup and may be, even inside you as a part of soluble stitches or a valve!

Plastics have permeated into every aspect of our lives, and with our increasing consumption of these polymers, they have added to the scourge of solid wastes.

Do you want to know why and how? Let's go on a plastic trail

More plastic, more usage, more wastage

Plastics production use of natural resources Natural resources such as petroleum are used for production of plastics. After a series of chemical and physical processes, we get finished plastic products in various shapes, sizes and having different properties

Plastic, plastic, plastic...

Plastics vary in physical, chemical, mechanical, thermal and electrical properties. Plastic wastes are sorted according to blowing or moulding quality and, sent for reprocessing. The term `plastic' describes the compound based on a plastic type of polymer and the additives. There are different types of plastics, ones which can be remoulded termed as thermo­plastics, such as polystyrene (PS), poly-propylene(PP), polyamides (nylons), polycarbonate(PC), poly-ethylene(PE) and poly­vinyls(PVC). Plastics which cannot be remoulded are termed as thermosets such as melamines, polyesters, phenollCS etc.

Commodity plastics are normally used for articles where technical requirements are not very critical. Largest in world production are five commodity polymers-LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE, PP, PS and PVC. Low density polyethylene (L,DPE)-transparent, flexible; low molecular weight & low density polyethylene (LLDPE)-a little more transparent than I,DPE but more puncture resistant; high density polyethylene (HDPE)-translucent, more rigid than LDPE/LLDPE, more moisture resistant; polypropylene (PP)-rigid, suitable for hinged appliances; poly-styrene (PS)-transparent, rigid, brittle; polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-fire retardant, good dielectric strength, (soft/rigid), are few of the well known commodity plastics.

Plastics have applications in various fields

Plastics are being extensively used in every facet of our lives!!

Plastics in Agriculture

In Agriculture primarily PE, PP & PVC plastics are used extensively. Green House Coverings and fertilizer sacks are of PVC plastic and have a short user life cycle.

Irrigation pipes, drums and tanks are made of PVC as well as HDPE plastics.

Trays and pots are also moulded from PE, PVC, PS plastics etc.

Plastics in Automobile

Currently, 15-20% of an automobile is made of non-metallic material (glass, rubber, plastics, etc.). Batteries, fuel tanks, bumpers, wires & cables have plastic components

Plastic in Construction

The construction industry mainly uses PE & PVC plastics. These plastics have a much longer user life cycle than any other plastics in any of the sectors.

Plastics in electronic appliances and equipment

Television sets, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners have cabinets and other parts made of PS, PE, PVC etc.

Some other applications

Nursery bags in PE, Suitcases in PP, Artificial flowers in PE, Dolls/toys in PVC/PE/PS, conduits in PVC, floors tiles in PVC, buckets in PE,PP, PS are other applications in which plastics are used. PE, PVC, PI' films, packaging, shopping bags and medicinal foils, moulded items like containers and other range of household non­durables, combs, ball point pens, tooth brushes are other applications.

HDPE and PVC are used for making woven sacks. Syringes, bottles, tubings are in PE, PVC etc.

PE and PVC agricultural films and multi-coloured, PVC ribbon curtains, PVC shoe soles, HDPE, LDPE buckets are other common item made from these polymers.  

Life Cycle route of plastic waste

Many plastic consumer items have short life spans and quickly make their way into waste streams!

Plastic Bags and Plastic Waste Why are they a problem?

Although plastics make up only about 5%, by weight of total Municipal Wastes, they are one of the biggest contributors to the solid waste problem.

Delhi generates 250-300 metric tonnes of plastic waste per day, half of which is recycled into carry bags. Carry bags cause blockage of drains and sewer lines leading to major disruptions in the drainage system and hence are a public health hazard.

Swallowing plastics causes premature death of many land and aquatic animals. In rivers, ponds and seas, death of these aquatic animals cause disruption in the ecological balance necessary for maintaining the quality of water.

Carry bags and other non-biodegradable matter cause choking of landmass, making it unfit for growth of life forms such as plants and microorganisms.

Accumulation of plastics on land prevents proper drainage thus causing landslides in hilly areas.

Picking infectious plastics poses a grave danger to ragpickers who pick the waste bare handed. This makes them prone to various eye, skin diseases and respiratory disorders.

Plastic Bags and Plastic Waste recycling: Slow death by design (if not done properly)


Small and unapproved Plastic Recycling Units reprocess plastic waste which have been bought and collected from houses, offices, shops and institutions or picked from dump sites, bins and gutters by ragpickers and sold to agents for a small amount. Ragpickers render a great service to us by removing these plastic bags from the environment but unfortunately recycling them in this way is extremely harmful to all of us. Furthermore burning them in incinerators, like many municipalities want to do, are even more harmful because they produce toxic gases like dioxins and furans.

What's wrong with Plastic Recycling?

A. Sorting Problems

By the principle "like dissolves like", plastics being made from petrochemicals, allow other petrochemical based substances such as lube oil, mobile oil, pesticides, paints, detergents etc to penetrate them. Therefore, these containers, sorted according to colour, then regranulated and moulded into recycled products also contain toxic principles in them. When you put any edible item or water into these recycled containers, the toxic residues will leach into edible items or water in the recycled containers. Due to ignorance, people use these recycled plastic containers for carrying food and other edible items. Improperly sorted waste containing toxic substances along with other plastic waste, are granulated and moulded into food grade containers.

Chyawanprash or vanaspati containers made from reprocessed High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) granules could be from white or light colour containers which had been used to package materials such as mobile oil, paints, detergents and pesticides and hence have toxic substances in them.

Carry bags made from used HDPE & LDPE plastic waste which may have contained toxic or other products and coloured with non­standard powder colours are toxic to touch and have very poor or no tensile strength and end up in the garbage or gutter within 24 hours of their use.

B. Heating Problems

Polystyrene (PS): Thermocol and other PS material which are melted to be reprocessed release styrene even at 50-60°C.  

Styrene is an established cancer causing substance (carcinogen) and extremely harmful to human as well as animal health.

Polyvinyl Chloride

Non-standard lead and cadmium based stabilizers and colours are harmful when used in footwear because the body, through the skin absorbs these chemicals.

Extremely poor quality PVC cables manufactured in this manner are responsible for large number of fires, which not only cause accidents, loss of money and resources but also are extremely harmful to human health. These fires lead to liberation of FIG gas and dioxins in the air. Also pigments containing heavy metals release them into the air when burnt, contaminating air, water and soil.

Non-standard PVC water pipes made from recycled granules are processed with a high quantity of fillers-Calcium Carbonate which is responsible for brittleness and easy breakage of pipes causing disruption, wastage and pollution of water.

Sorting and segregation of bio-medical PVC tubings, bags etc. cause injury and disease to all those who are involved in this task & dioxins when burnt.

PVC soles are separated from `uppers' by roasting them and softening them on cowdung grates causing air pollution and respiratory problems. Also pthalates which are used in PVC cause high toxicity in children & adults.

C. Reprocessing Problems

 No restriction on quality

To hide the dullness of plastics, non-permitted colours and additives are used in excess leading to poor quality of products thereby rendering them unsafe and dangerous.

Primitive and locally made reprocessing machinery with no temperature control, no quality control and with low grade of additives and colours contribute to low quality of products which are deleterious to human health and the environment.

Addition of excess quantity of sub-standard Chlorinated Paraffin Wax (CPW) i.e. secondary plasticisers during reprocessing of the PVC cables gives shine to the recycled cables. In summer when temperature reaches approx 50"C, CPW starts melting from these cables leaving gaps in them. This leads to short circuits and fires. Furthermore, in congested places, lots of criss- connections in the area increases the chances of fire incidents. Hence, extremely poor quality PVC cables with high quantities of plasticisers such as CPW are responsible for the large number of fires that have now become common in tall buildings, marriage halls and even during functions with temporary electrical connections in many parts of India.

BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) prescribes quality of resins and methods of production, temperature etc. for different plastics and different uses. Colours and pigments used in master batches are also regulated by BIS standards. These standards are most often blatantly violated and so called `food grade' products are made in the most non­standard manner.

Plastic bags and plastic waste recycling - without occupational safety measures: An economic boon or an environmental curse?

Though the plastics recycling industry is making claims of providing employment to lakhs of people but at what cost? Let's peep inside some of these units to find the answer. These reprocessing units are operating in sheds and small rooms of dimensions from 60 to 100 sq. ft, which are poorly ventilated.

Environmental Hazards 

Equipment/machinery used for reprocessing are old and run down with unprotected wiring and no temperature control and no safety or pollution control equipment. The same units are used for storing the waste to be reprocessed, process equipment and the operation of the machinery. This can lead to large fires which, often happen especially in summers when the conditions are dry and plastics tend to catch fire easily. Old men and women, young children of five or six, pregnant and lactating mothers, infants, youth and others are all wasting away in this atmosphere of dust, infections and toxic fumes!!

What can we do as individuals? Say no to plastic carry bags!  

Carry a cloth bag not a carry bag or a plastic bag!

Discourage shopkeepers and vendors from giving plastic bags to customers. Instead ask for paper or jute bags and pay for them. Better still, carry your own bag.

Do not burn plastics as it gives off toxic fumes, which are extremely harmful to human health.

Don't throw plastic bags in your surroundings, in gutters or on roads and stop others if they do so.

Avoid using plastics for single use, disposable purposes such as plastic bags, bubble packaging, plastic cups, plates, spoons, straws etc.

If you have to buy goods in plastic containers, reuse them wherever possible. Don't allow wrong type of reuse like putting hot milk or tea in plastic water bottle or pesticide containers. Don't put kerosene or pesticides in containers meant for food packaging. They will get reprocessed as containers for food and water and toxins will come back to you.

Give plastic containers and other recyclable plastic products to kabadiwalla but make sure that containers of toxic products like cleaners, detergents, pesticides and harmful chemicals are recycled into structurals or sent to landfills through an organised garbage stream.

Every action counts! Let's work together for a poison free future...  

The Recycled Plastic Manufacture and Usage Rules 1999 

Ministry of Environment And Forests

Notification-New Delhi, the 2nd September 1999

S. O.  705 (E) Whereas draft rules in exercise Of the powers conferred by clause (VIII) of Subsection(.' ) of section 3 read with section 25 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986)    in the gazette vide S. O. 9)80 (E) dared 20 of the  November, 1998 entitled Recycled Plastics Usage Rules, 1998 inviting  objections From the public within GO days From the dare OF the publication of the said notification and whereas all objections received were duly considered.

Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by clause (VI I}) of sub-section (2) of section 3 read with section 25 of the environment (Protection) act, 1986 the Central Government hereby notifies the rules for the manufacture and use of recycled plastics carry bangs and con trainers :

     1.. Short title and commencement :-

(A) These rules may be called the Recycled plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules 1999. (B) They shall come into force on the date of their publication III the Official Gazette 

2.     Definitions:- In these rules unless the context requires,

(A) "Act" means the Environment (Protection) Au, 1986;

(B)" Foodstuff  means ready-to-eat food and food products , fast  food, processed an cl cool ed Food in liquid, powder , solid or semi-solid Form;

     (C)"Vendor" means person who sells foodstuffs as defined above packaged and stored in plastic carry bags and containers.

3.    Prescribed Authority

(A) The  prescribed aur6urity for eufocenement Of the provisions of these  manufacture  recycling shall be the Stare Pollution Control Committees in respect of Union Territories

(B) The prescribed aur6urity  for enforcement of the  the provision of these rules related to the use,  collection segregation, it transportation and disposal shall be the District Collector/Depury Commissioner of the concerned district where no such authority has been constituted by the state Government/ union Teritories:

4. Prohibition of usage of carry bags or container made of recycled plastics:- No vendor shall use cary bags or containers made of recycled plastic fro storing carrying, dispensing or regarding non- bridgeable garbage 

5. Conditions of Manufacture carry  bags or  containers made of plastic- Subject to the provision of rule 4, any person may manufacture  carry bags or constancies made of plastics if following condition are satisfied, namely

A) carry bags and containers of virgin plastic shall be in natural shade or white:

b) Carry bags and containers made of recycled plastic and reused fro purpose other then storing and packing food stuffs shall be manufactured using pigments and colurants as per IS:9833:981 entitled "List of pigments and colourants for use in plastic in contact with food stuff, pharmaceuticals and drinking water "

6.. Recycling:- Recycling of plastics shall he undertaken .strictly in accordance with the Bureau of  Indian standard .specification  1S 14534:1998 entitled "'The Guidelines  For Recycling of Plastic"

7.  Marketing / codification : - Manufactures of recycled plastic carry bags having printing facilities shall code / mark carry bags and containers as per Bureau of Indian Slandered Specification: IS 14534: 1998 entitle " The Guidelines fro Recycling of Plastics" and the end product made out of recycled plastic shall be marked as "recycled" along with the indication of the percentage of use of recycle material. Other manufacture who do not have printing facilities, shall comply with the condition within one year of publication of these rules. Manufactures shall print on each packet of carry bags as to whether these are made of "recycled material" of or "virgin plastic"

8. 'Thickness of carry bags :- the minimum thickness of carry bags made of virgin plastic or recycled plastic shall not be less then 20 microns.

9. Self regulation by certain person:- Without prejudice to the provision contained in rule 3, the Plastic Industry Association, through their member units, shall undertake self regulatory measures. [ File number 15(4)/96-HSMD]. 



It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner