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Plastic soup

When someone says ‘soup’ the image of a simple, healthy and nourishing dish comes to our mind. However, there is one different, unhealthy kind of soup called ‘plastic soup’ that nobody prefers to consume, but which is unknowingly being consumed by people in different forms. Now, this phenomenon of the ‘plastic soup’ is something most of us don’t have a clue about. Most developed countries are blamed for their environment pollution. The top carbon-dioxide emitters in the world are China (23 percent), United States (19 percent), European Union (13 percent) and India (6 percent). Low-income countries like Nepal have the smallest carbon footprints, but have to suffer a lot from different natural calamities.

Basically, plastic soups are formed in oceans—as it is the ultimate destination of all the sewage, pollution or by products of any disastrous activities we, living creatures, participate in. The oceans occupy 72 percent of earth’s surface, from where more than half the population of the world gets foods. According to Living Planet Report 2014, in around 60 years, the marine species have declined by about 40 percent. Plastic debris poses considerable threat by choking and starving wildlife, distributing non-native and potentially harmful organisms, absorbing toxic chemicals and degrading to micro-plastics that may subsequently be ingested.

The name itself suggests that the soup’s main component is a widely used plastic. It may shock you to find out that the plastic bags that we use are also one of the many vital sources that ultimately become plastic soup. The 100 days long holy Bagmati cleanup campaign was conducted almost every day, collecting tons of plastic bags from the river with a strong message to not throw any plastic materials into rivers. Bangladesh is one of the first countries in South Asia to ban the use of plastic bags. In 2002, the government revised the Environment Conservation Act to impose a nationwide ban on plastic bags.

The bill calling for ban garnered unanimous support in the parliament—a rarity in itself. The action to ban was taken after the flood of 1998 when two-thirds of the country was submerged. One of the reasons behind this flood was clogging of drains and sewer by the disposed polythene bags. Any plastic materials that we use and throw gets affected by weathering, sunlight and wave action and reduces into smaller particles that mix into soil and ultimately into the river. The plastics that we directly throw into rivers also collide millions of times with stones and soils, ultimately breaking down into smaller particles when it reaches oceans.

Plastic is made up of fossil fuels and is solid in nature. It does not decay for thousands of years. Only nine percent of plastic is being recycled in the entire world. Out of 299 million tons plastic produced worldwide in a year—it was also found that 10+ million tons of plastics end up in oceans every year.

The first plastic was invented in 1907, by Leo Handrik Baekeland, exactly 108 years ago. If Genghis Khan had thrown away plastic in his time, it would have still been with us on earth’s surface or in the ocean as a part of a soup.

As a result of the breakdown and fragmentation of plastic into smaller pieces, ocean has almost turned into the soup of infinite pieces of plastic. The plastic soup not only stays still in the form of plastic, toxins released from the plastic are very dangerous to marine species. Marine species mistakenly take in plastic debris as their food and absorb such toxins, and ultimately, when we consume marine species as food, we too, are consumers of this plastic soup.

In various parts of the world, there has been a phase where countries are opting out of lightweight plastic bags—Nepal is a recent example. Nepal recently banned the production, use, and store of single use plastic bags making it effective from April 14, 2015. After the declaration most of the shopping malls inside Kathmandu Valley have stopped using plastic bags. Ministry of Science, Environment and Technology (MoSET), Environment Division of Nepal has stated that the use of plastic bags has decreased up to almost 69 percent after promulgation of the new law.

Developing alternatives of plastic are a key challenge of global companies today. A company like Coca-Cola, that consumes thousands of tons of plastic, has recently launched its new initiative Plant Bottle, launched in 2009 and has since distributed more than 15 billion of the bottles in 25 countries. The company is aiming to replace its traditional plastic bottle made of up PET with plant bottle throughout the world by 2020.

To replace plastic problem bio plastics are taken as an alternative. Bio plastics are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, such as vegetable fats and oils, cornstarch, or micro biota. Bio plastic can be made from agricultural byproducts and also from used plastic bottles and other containers using microorganisms.

Every living/nonliving creature is sharing this earth we are living in. When we harm the environment in any part of the world, it affects globally. It is time to accept that the environment is degrading and mother Earth is asking us to take urgent steps to go green.