Subh-e-Nau Magazine

Swimming in Plastics: The High Costs of Our Throw-Away  

The era of our throw-away culture began with the advent and rampant use of plastics. How do we recover from these harmful practices and substances that pervade and harm our spaces? 

Plastics are ubiquitous in our lives; from common use shopping bags, water bottles, umbrellas and stationery supplies to hi-tech cellphones and computers, plastics have become an essential part of our lifestyle. As a result, we have become used to the “disposable” way of life dominated by single-use plastics. We may not realize it, but plastics are the most commonly littered item in the world and have found their way to the ends of the earth, quite literally.
Plastic is a very useful material because of its stable, inert and long-lasting nature. However, the same characteristics that make it a key material-of-choice for our products spell disaster for our health and the environment. Its stable and durable nature means that it does not decompose or biodegrade easily, when disposed of in the environment. Even though plastics are inexpensive to manufacture, the process itself is very carbon-intensive: around 8% of the world’s oil production goes into making plastics. Not only is its production contributing to climate change, its disposal creates further environmental problems. This is not all, as the chemicals added to plastics pose a threat to not only marine animals and birds but also to our public health.
According to BBC, 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been thrown away since 1950 and less than 9% of it has been recycled. So where does all this plastic go? Most of it (around 60%) finds its way into landfills and the natural environment including more than 8 million tons of plastics that are dumped into the oceans each year.
Let us not forget that it takes hundreds of years for plastics to degrade and even then, they do not disappear completely. Instead plastic breaks down into tiny microscopic bits of plastic known as microplastics, which eventually find their way into our food chain. This has serious consequences for our oceans, marine biodiversity, and public health, which is what this cover story aims to explore. But first let us look at the scale of the problem and its main sources.

Sources of plastic pollution

The history of plastic production is an old one, but its large-scale production and consumption really began after the second World War. This magic material was in high demand in the post-war era as it made a good substitute for natural materials like rubber which were in short supply. As a result, production costs declined rapidly, and plastics soon began replacing leather, glass, metal and wood.
Since 1964, plastic production has increased twentyfold and is expected to double in the next 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050. It is unbelievable that just in the last decade, we have produced more plastic than we did during the whole of the last century. But, the sad part is that half of the plastics produced gets thrown away after just a single use. Each year, we throw away enough plastic to circle the earth four times.
So, where does all this plastic come from? Let us look at the main sources of plastic pollution:
  • Plastic fishing lines and nets discarded by commercial and recreational fishermen
  • Plastic packaging from food and consumer products
  • Single-use plastics like plastic bags, straws, and water bottles
  • Microbeads used in cosmetic products like face wash, toothpaste, shower gels etc.
  • Clothes made from synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, nylon etc. which upon washing release microfibers into the waterways. (As many as 700,000 fibers can be released from each cycle of a washing machine.)
All the plastics produced will eventually end up in the landfills or the oceans where they will continue to impact marine life for many years to come. Around 80% of the plastic trash in the oceans come from land-based sources. These include litter, trash and debris from construction, ports and marinas, commercial and industrial facilities, garbage containers, trucks, and landfills. The remaining 20% comes from ocean-based sources, such as, overboard discharges from ships and discarded fishing gear.

Microplastics: a new threat

Microplastics are very small bits of plastic typically less than five millimeters in length. Their presence in the oceans has been reported as early as the 1970s, but the use of the term ‘microplastics’ is relatively recent. Since these particles are extremely small, they easily escape most water filters and cannot be effectively removed by traditional water and wastewater treatment.
Microplastics are known to be pervasive in the oceans but a new study has revealed that they may be just as pervasive in our drinking water and sea food. The new studies on microplastic contamination of our tap and bottled water have brought this issue to the forefront of public consciousness. But how do these particles enter our waterways?
The source of microplastics in our environment can be traced to two distinct processes:
  1. Primary: Direct release of micro particles: microbeads from cosmetic and personal care products; microfibers released from washing of clothes made of synthetic fibers like polyester and nylon; accidental loss of industrial raw materials (e.g. plastic pellets or powders used for plastic manufacturing), during shipping or transport, directly into the sea or surface waterways.
  2. Secondary: Deterioration of larger plastic fragments, into smaller and smaller pieces over time due to UV radiation from the sun, mechanical forces in the sea (e.g. wave and wind action), or through biological activity (e.g. shredding and grinding by marine organisms and bacteria).
The ‘secondary microplastics’ are more common and abundant than the ‘primary microplastics’. Once in the water, they persist for decades as they cannot be naturally broken down. Microplastics repel water and bind with other toxins that do not dissolve. These tiny particles serve as sponges, soaking up toxic chemicals present in the water like oil, pesticides, heavy metals and medicinal residues. One potential concern is that they could become carriers for hazardous chemicals and bacteria to enter the body. If they do enter the body, these toxins cannot be easily flushed out and can accumulate in our fatty tissues.
Microplastics can also be found on the beaches and the deep ocean floor, as well as in the marine food chain. In fact, the presence of these microplastics has been detected in seafood sold for human consumption, such as shellfish, mussels, oysters and even the sea salt.
Since this is a relatively new field of study, more research is required to understand its impact on the environment and more specifically, the human health. While evidence regarding the harmful health effects of microplastics is being further studied and researched, we do know that they are foreign to the body and can trigger immune responses such as inflammation.

Plastics and Oceans 

Plastic pollution has turned into an international crisis that threatens each of the world’s oceans. This is a result of lax government policies and years of mismanaged waste disposal into the oceans. Did you know that Pakistan is among the top 20 countries ranked by mass of mismanaged plastic waste, with China topping the list? As a developing country, we have so far shown no concern for our coastal environment.
Plastic constitutes approximately 90 percent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface. There are five massive garbage patches in the oceans where currents concentrate huge swaths of marine plastic debris. These garbage gyres contain billions of pounds of plastic and cover around 40% of the world’s oceans. When we hear about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (largest ocean garbage patch) on the news, we tend to imagine large floating island of plastics. However, in reality, these are more like a plastic smog enveloping large parts of the oceans. Contrary to widespread belief, only a small percentage of large plastics float on the ocean surface. Most plastics are tiny microplastic particles dispersed throughout the water column, resting on the seafloor, trapped in Arctic ice, or inside marine animals. They are then taken up by small fish where their concentration builds up as they move up the marine food chain.
Scientists predict that if we do not alter and significantly reduce our plastic consumption, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish by 2050.

Plastics and Marine Life 

Plastic pollution has been found to affect at least 700 marine species, according to a Plymouth University study while some estimates suggest that it is responsible for killing about 100 million marine mammals each year. This includes 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species.
Plastics can harm marine organisms in a variety of ways. Many marine organisms and sea birds are unable to distinguish plastic items from food. These animals who ingest plastics often starve to death because it fills their stomachs, preventing them from eating real food and leaches harmful chemicals into their bodies. Birds and other larger animals also frequently become trapped in plastic debris.
Here are the marine organisms most severely impacted by plastic pollution:

Sea Turtles 

Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to plastic pollution as they often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, squid or other prey. Ingesting plastic bags causes blockages in their respiratory tracts or digestive systems leading to asphyxiation or starvation.
Plastic pollution is one of the leading causes of the decline in sea turtle populations. A few 2013 studies estimate that as much as half of the sea turtle population is dying as a result of ingesting plastic. Studies report that five out of seven species of sea turtles have ingested plastics including green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley turtles. Another study of the Loggerhead sea turtles found that the digestive system of 15 percent of young turtles they examined was obstructed due to ingesting enormous quantities of plastic.
In addition to ingesting plastics, sea turtles frequently get entangled in plastic debris, which restricts their growth and movement. A research study found that between 5,000 and 15,000 sea turtles are trapped each year in derelict fishing gear washed ashore the coast of northern Australia alone. 

Seals and Sea Lions 

Marine life can become entangled in a variety of plastic debris floating in the oceans. Every year, seals and sea lions become entangled in plastic bags or plastic packing bands which leads to injury and death. According to some studies, seals from 15 of the world’s 32 seal species have been found ensnared in plastic debris.
Young seal and sea lion pups are allured by the colorful trash and tend to play with the marine debris, unaware of their potential for harm. The most deeply impacted sea lion species is Alaska’s threatened Steller Sea Lion population. In fact, a study in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, spanning eight years, documented 388 sea lions which suffered entanglement in plastic debris. The most notorious culprits are the plastic and rubber packing bands. These get wrapped around a seal or sea lion’s neck or body and can lead to severe infection and death. 

Whales and Dolphins 

Whales, like other marine mammals, mistake plastic items for food or may unknowingly pick up plastic debris along with their food. A recent Irish study found that nearly 10% of whales, dolphins, and porpoises examined in Ireland had accumulated plastic in their digestive tracts. The plastics found inside their guts included plastic bags, wrappers, fishing hooks, and even shotgun cartridges.
It is shocking to see that even studies as early as the 1980s, had discovered plastic drinking cups, children’s toys and large pieces of fishing nets in the stomachs of sperm whales. Plastic pollution has increased way too much since then. A study found that in the past two decades, hundreds of species of cetaceans have been negatively impacted by plastic pollution. According to Marine Pollution Bulletin journal, plastic packaging, nets and bags have been found in 56% of all whale and dolphin species; while 22 percent of the cetaceans are now at an increased risk of death due to ingesting plastics at an unprecedented rate.

Sea birds 

It is estimated around 90 percent of seabirds are eating plastics which can block passages in their guts or perforate their intestines. The most impacted sea bird species is the Laysan albatross. It picks up plastics as its beak skims the surface when diving into the ocean to catch fish, squid or other food. One study found that an estimated 98 percent of albatross studied had ingested at least some kind of plastic debris.
Ingestion of plastic can also cause leaching of toxic chemicals such as phthalates — a plasticizer that effects the hormone system — into the animal. This can cause hormonal disturbances or poisoning in the birds.

Fish 

As the plastic in the ocean gets exposed to water and sun, it can break down into tiny plastics, invisible to the naked eye, called microplastics. These microplastics are now found everywhere, in the oceans, drinking water, the soil and even in our food. Once plastic particles find their way into the bloodstream of an organism, they can never be processed out. According to a study by Plymouth University, one third of the fish caught in the UK was found to contain plastics. These microplastics can contaminate the sea food chain and eventually find their way onto our plates.
It’s sad to see vulnerable marine life entangled in our society’s trash. There’s too much debris in our oceans, from the lost crab lines entangling whales to fish choking on plastic pollution.”- Steve Jones, Center for Biological Diversity, USA.

Plastics and public health 

We generally tend to think of the impacts of our misuse and neglect of natural resources as occurring out there somewhere. But, we must remember that nothing in nature occurs in isolation. Everything is connected and though we might not realize it, our fates relate to the rest of the living world.
Nowhere is the saying, “what goes around, comes around”, more apt than in the case of plastic pollution. Whatever we discard into the environment, it finds ways to get back to us. So is the case with plastic pollution. As we shall see, plastic never really goes away. We dump it in the ground or in the oceans to get it out of our sight, but the trash just changes forms and it all ultimately comes back to us.

Plastics in seafood 

Let us take the example of microplastics. All those billions of plastic bags and water bottles in the oceans get broken down by the action of wind, water and sunlight into tiny particles. The fish in the sea and rivers ingest these microplastics and all the chemicals it has absorbed on its surface. We then catch these fish and eat them, taking in the chemical and plastic stew inside our bodies. Around 400 million poor people depend critically on fish for their food and plastics have even been found in mussels and oysters. You might think that people who are not a fan of seafood might be safe from this threat. It would be the case if, the impacts were contained to sea food. However, we know that the presence of microplastics is more ubiquitous than previously thought.

Plastics in drinking water

Recent studies by Dr. Mason and team have found microplastics in 83% of tap water samples from major cities around the world and in 93% of samples from the world’s top 11 bottled water brands. A March 2018 study found microplastic contamination in more than 90% of the samples from top bottled water brands including Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, and Nestlé. The study was carried out on more than 250 water bottles sourced from 11 brands in nine different countries. As a result, the World Health Organization has launched plastics health review to assess the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.
The origins of these microplastics, in many cases, could be traced back to the washing of synthetic clothes like polyester, nylon etc. while the microplastic contamination in bottled water was due to plastic packaging, and partly the fault of the bottling process.
So, what are the risks of eating and drinking plastics?

Health risks

Plastic pollution has been recognized as a public health hazard. People are at a risk of exposure during manufacturing of certain plastic products, but also by using plastic packaging. Some chemicals added to enhance plastic appearance and durability like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) can leach into foods and beverages and cause harm to human health. Examples of plastic contamination in food have been reported with most plastic types, including Styrene from polystyrene, plasticizers from PVC, antioxidants from polyethylene, and Acetaldehyde from PET. The effects of exposure from chemical additives of plastic can cause:
  • Direct toxicity, from heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury
  • Cancers, as in the case of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP)
  • Endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children.
Many studies have shown that there is an observable correlation between plastics in the blood (specifically BPA and phthalates) and an increased risks of serious health issues including: chromosomal and reproductive abnormalities, early puberty, childhood obesity, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, and increased blood pressure.
Humans get exposed to plastics in multiple ways. In addition to ingestion, the open burning of plastics adds to the health risks. Open burning of plastics, as is common practice in Pakistan, is a major contributor to air pollution and is a public health hazard. It releases toxic gases like Dioxins, Furans, Mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls into the atmosphere. Most of these are persistent-organic-pollutants (POPs) and cause different types of cancers, aggravate respiratory and cardiac diseases, and disrupt reproductive and neurological systems.
The following table gives the common types of plastics, their uses and harmful health effects:

 

Plastic

Common Uses

Adverse Health Effects

Polyvinylchloride (#3PVC)
Food packaging, plastic wrap, containers for toiletries, cosmetics, crib bumpers, floor tiles, pacifiers, shower curtains, toys, water pipes, garden hoses, auto upholstery, inflatable swimming pools.
Can cause cancer, birth defects, genetic changes, chronic bronchitis, ulcers, skin diseases, deafness, vision failure, indigestion, and liver dysfunction.
Phthalates (DEHP, DINP, and others)
Softened vinyl products manufactured with phthalates include vinyl clothing, emulsion paint, footwear, printing inks, non-mouthing toys and children’s products, product packaging and food wrap, vinyl flooring, blood bags and tubing, IV containers and components, surgical gloves, breathing tubes, general purpose labware, inhalation masks, many other medical devices
Endocrine disruption, linked to asthma, developmental and reproductive effects. Medical waste with PVC and phthalates is regularly incinerated causing public health effects from the release of dioxins and mercury, including cancer, birth defects, hormonal changes, declining sperm counts, infertility, endometriosis, and immune system impairment.
Polycarbonate, with Bisphenol A (#7)
Water bottles
Scientists have linked very low doses of bisphenol A exposure to cancers, impaired immune function, early onset of puberty, obesity, diabetes, and hyperactivity, among other problems (Environment California)
Polystyrene
Many food containers for meats, fish, cheeses, yogurt, foam and clear clamshell containers, foam and rigid plates, clear bakery containers, packaging “peanuts”, foam packaging, audio cassette housings, CD cases, disposable cutlery, building insulation, flotation devices, ice buckets, wall tile, paints, serving trays, throw-away hot drink cups, toys
Can irritate eyes, nose and throat and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. Migrates into food and stores in body fat. Elevated rates of lymphatic and hematopoietic cancers for workers.
Polyethelyne (#1 PET)
Water and soda bottles, carpet fiber, chewing gum, coffee stirrers, drinking glasses, food containers and wrappers, heat-sealed plastic packaging, kitchenware, plastic bags, squeeze bottles, toys
Suspected human carcinogen
Polyester
Bedding, clothing, disposable diapers, food packaging, tampons, upholstery
Can cause eye and respiratory-tract irritation and acute skin rashes
Polyurethane Foam
Cushions, mattresses, pillows .
Bronchitis, coughing, skin and eye problems. Can release toluene diisocyanate which can produce severe lung problems.
Acrylic
Clothing, blankets, carpets made from acrylic fibers, adhesives, contact lenses, dentures, floor waxes, food preparation equipment, disposable diapers, sanitary napkins, paints.
Can cause breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, weakness, headache and fatigue.
It is hard to establish a direct causal link between microplastics and human health and therefore, it is unclear what the long-term effect of its consumption would be. Research by the European Food Safety Authority revealed that as much as 90% of ingested plastic could pass through a human body, but some of it may end up lodged in the gut, or travel through the lymphatic system.

What is being done about it? 

Customers, and not the industry, are responsible for plastic disposal at the moment. This model relieves the industry of all responsibilities for cleanup and disposal. Unfortunately, at present, there are no national or international regulations or limits for plastic pollution. There are international laws that ban marine dumping of many pollutants, but none of them apply to plastics.
We, however, see independent attempts by countries to ban plastic products. One example is United States’ Microbead-Free Water Act. Under this act, it banned the manufacture and use of microbeads — miniature plastic spheres used as exfoliates in beauty products — since December 2015. Similarly, several countries around the world have banned microbeads, Styrofoam cups, plastic straws and bags etc. The list of countries which have banned, or taxed plastic bags is pretty long and impressive and includes countries from all continents.
Furthermore, for the first time, in early December 2017, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi announced a resolution on marine litter and microplastics. It is a first-of-its-kind, global attempt to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. It aims to eliminate marine litter in the long term, urging counties to take action by 2025, to “prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds” and “encourages” them to “prioritize policies” that “avoid marine litter and microplastics entering the marine environment.” Around 40 countries have signed up to the voluntary Clean Seas campaign since its launch, which is a great start. Recently, Sindh has imposed a plastic ban which should be implemented there and this must be implemented across the country. It is not the first time such initiatives in Pakistan, as there are bans imposed in Islamabad, however, implementation is weak and hence we must follow through to make any meaningful impact in reducing plastic pollution.

What can you do? 

I put forward here two types of recommendations: one is the policy changes required to deal with the problem and the second is a call for action to citizens.
“Prevention is better than cure” and a good policy can make that possible. The biggest impact on stopping plastic pollution can come from preventing massive amounts of plastic litter from entering our waterways and oceans.
These policy enforcements have worked for others and can be imitated and implemented in our own country:
  • Ban on production and use of plastic bags
  • Charge/tax on any plastic bags and water bottles bought
  • Deposit refunds on disposable beverage and water bottles (as was the case with glass bottles a few years back). This incentivizes people to return them for recycling, and reduce the amount littered.
  • Shift the responsibility of recycling to the industry by making laws that incorporate end-of-life recycling and disposal.
  • Heavy fines on littering at the beach.
  • Nation-wide recycling campaign: mass-awareness and placing of plastic recycling bins around the city with designated collection units.
No matter how big the problem, there is always something an individual can do to help. Here is what you can do to minimize plastic pollution:
  • Say no to plastic bags. I understand that they are free and convenient, but they carry hidden environmental and public health costs. So, bring your own reusable bags for shopping.
  • Avoid buying disposable plastic products like straws and water bottles. Refill your reusable bottle.
  • Do not buy beauty products containing microbeads. They have been banned in the US and Canada, but Pakistan continues to sell consumer products with microbeads.
  • Consider purchasing items made of natural fibers (cotton, linen and wool), whenever possible.
  • Replace your plastic food storage bags with stainless steel tins or glass jars.
  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers or storing fatty foods in plastic wraps.
  • Do not give young children plastic teethers or toys.
  • Do not litter the beach as that trash directly ends up in the ocean.
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle, as much as possible.
It is important that both policy and citizen action go together. Since the nature of this problem is so pervasive, it requires multiple solutions to be implemented simultaneously. It might be useful to remember what goes around comes around, the next time you buy or dispose plastic products.
Writer: Amber Ajani

 

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Making Every Day Earth Day

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd every year to mark our love and care for our planet. On this day we remind ourselves of our shared responsibility to protect nature as good environmental stewards.     

Earth Day has become the largest secular observance in the world and is celebrated each year by more than a billion people in more than 190 countries.
At this point, you might be thinking that this should have been published in the April issue since this is last month’s news. But this is precisely the reason I decided to send in this article for May. We all gather to celebrate Earth Day once a year but go about business as usual the other 364 days of the year. So, I propose we work towards making every day earth day.
In recent years, Earth day has become more like a ritual or a marketing strategy for businesses and organizations to profess their sustainability agenda. On this day, corporations also jump on the environmental bandwagon all the while conveniently ignoring the topic of sustainability the rest of the year. Time has come for us to realize that we are now way past that point where doing a little bit of good on a single day would suffice to save the Earth. Yes, every bit counts, but we need to continue our efforts consistently and scale them up throughout the year. That would then constitute real progress.
Even the philosophy behind the first Earth Day in 1970 was to commemorate the modern environmental movement. Most of us are unaware of the history of the Earth day, even though we participate in its celebrations. In the 1960s, United States was struggling with many environmental pollution issues and the public had had enough. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin, also known as the father of the Earth day, saw the disconnect between public demand for environmental protection and the lack of political will for it. He wanted to do something about it and decided to adopt a strategy from the Vietnam war activists to organize a teach-in about the environment. The event was an enormous success and around 20 million Americans celebrated Earth Day that year. It also marked the beginning of a movement. Later that year, it helped create the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US and also laid the groundwork for many other progressive measures like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Endangered Species Protection Act etc.
More than 40 years of celebrations have passed since the first Earth day, but we still have a long road ahead of us. The fight for a cleaner environment continues. Earth Day has changed a little bit since then, but it still remains a day to learn about the environment. But is learning about the environment and its issues enough?
“Knowledge without action is useless and irrelevant. Knowledge with action converts adversity into prosperity”, says Abdul Kalam and I couldn’t agree more. It is no longer enough to just learn about the environment; it is time we all did something to save the only life-supporting planet in the universe (that we know of). Our earth and oceans are heating up, seas are rising, rivers and glaciers are melting, and wildlife is disappearing; so there is a need to incrementally increase our efforts too. Together we can turn this era of environmental crises into an era of opportunities.
One way to ratchet up our efforts is to shift our once-a-year-celebration mentality to a more consistent one. How about instead of symbolically planting a few trees and cleaning up the beach, we actually committed to long-term sustainability goals? Earth day could become a day when we all started a movement, with each person, organization, and corporation sharing their environmental goals with a clear road-map on how to achieve them. We can all then hold each other accountable and extend support to complete our targets. The celebrations on the Earth day would then become celebrations of our environmental achievements and this would inspire more people to act.
So, what are some of the things that you can do to make every day earth day? The following are simple everyday things that can help build momentum for collective action on environmental matters:
  1. Join the “Billion Acts of Green” campaign by the Earth Day Network where you can even create your own act of green. These could include planting trees, recycling waste, buying less electronics, refusing plastics, installing solar panels, using public transport etc.
  2. Eat less meat- did you know that the meat industry is responsible for about 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions? You can also join the “Meatless Monday” movement where you pledge to give up meat once a week. Good for health and good for the planet.
  3. Join a plantation drive (by Subh-e-Nau) or donate to plant trees. If you do not have the space or expertise to plant trees, you can simply make a donation to organizations like Earth Day Network which will plant the trees for you.
  4. Drive less or carpool whenever possible. Another easy way to reduce your carbon footprint is to use public transport or switch to electric vehicles.
  5. Try going plastic-free for a day and then gradually make it a part of your lifestyle. There are healthier and more eco-friendly alternatives to plastic available; all we got to do is look.
Writer: Amber Ajani

Articles

7 Cool Ideas to Upcycle Old Plastic Bottles 

As socially responsible and eco-friendly citizens, we should all try to do our part to reduce waste and pollution, including plastics.   

Refilling disposable plastic bottles with water sounds like a green idea. However, we still have more empty bottles lying around our houses than we need for refilling. Furthermore, there are claims that refilling disposable PET (PolyEthylene Terephthalate) bottles slowly releases carcinogenic chemicals into the drink. A plastic bottle could also be a perfect breeding ground for harmful bacteria as we cannot clean it well with a sponge. Health-conscious people may not reuse plastic bottles for drinks but there are number other safe and eco-friendly ways to reuse these bottles. We have picked 7 awesome green upcycling hacks you can do it yourself at home.
1. Pencil Box: The most important thing your kids need to carry in their school bags is a pencil box. You can make a pencil box out of two medium size plastic bottles for your little artists. Here is all what you will need to craft this cool pencil case at home:
• Two Plastic Bottle (preferably 500 ml soft drink PET bottles)
• A good quality Zipper
• Utility Knife
• A pair of Scissors
• Glue Tube
Cut both plastic bottles into halves and take 2 bottom parts of the bottles. Make sure one of the parts should be smaller than the other one. Now take a zipper, add some glue, and attach it to both parts of the bottles. Leave it to dry for at least 4 hours before first use. You can also search for ‘How to make Pencil Case with Plastic Bottle’ on YouTube to watch full tutorial.
2. Self-watering Potted Plant: Keeping your plants moisturized is very important to keep them alive but it can be a challenging task when you are busy all week. Severe dehydration can cause the plant to die as it needs a lot of water during the hot and dry season. Fortunately, we have found an inexpensive and amazing DIY which can help you grow ‘low-maintenance’ plants in pots. All you need is a 1.5-liter (or bigger) bottle and a piece of cotton string.
Just cut the bottle in half, and thread a string piece through the bottle cap. Then invert the top half into the base and add some water. Now add the plant and soil, you can either transplant a sapling out of a clay pot/plastic bag or plant seeds into the pot to grow new saplings. You can also use thicker cotton string to wick extra moisture into the roots. It is recommended to use transparent bottles so you can see when the water needs refilling. Do not forget to change the water every week to keep your plants healthy.
3. Sprinkler for Garden: Pakistan is facing an acute water shortage which makes it necessary that we conserve water because every drop counts! Watering plants with a hose or using buckets wastes a lot of water. Here are two types of sprinklers you can make out of useless plastic bottles to save water:
i)   Hose Sprinkler (for larger gardens):
  • Poke holes in a 1.5-liter plastic bottle
  • Insert the hose into the bottle and wrap solution tape to fix the hose to the opening of the bottle
  • Open the tap and enjoy watering your garden!
The sprinkler will not work with high-pressure water pump hose; always use it with a regular tap.
ii)   Handheld Sprinkler (for pots & smaller gardens):
  1. Find any used plastic bottle, remove the cap from it
  2. Gently poke the cap from the inside using a nail and a hammer. Start from the center and work your way out in circles for an even spray.
  3. After poking all the holes, push the needle through them all from the outside to make them evenly round so they do not get clogged.
  4. Fill it with water and start watering your plants
4. Artistic Planter: If you are good at painting and gardening is your passion, then you’d probably love this green artistic pot. Here are some simple instructions for making your bottle planter:
•   Cut the bottom of a big plastic bottle (1.0 – 2.25 liters soft drink bottle)
•   Paint the bottle the color of your choice
•   Use parts of the rest of the bottle to cut out shapes
•   Paint a face/shape and other features on the bottle
•   Fill the bottle with seeds and soil or you can also transplant a sapling
5. Vertical Wall Garden: If you think growing vegetables need a lot of space, think again.
Here is what you need to build a vertical vegetable garden:
•   A wall with good sunlight exposure
•   Plastic bottles (1.5 – 2.5 liters)
•   Garden soil
•   Seedling/sapling (vegetables, herbs and/or flowers)
•   Tools; washers (2 per bottle), rope, scissors, steel nails, and hammer etc.
Instructions:
•   Drill 2 holes at the bottom and 2 at the top of the bottle
•   Drill a small hole in the bottom of the bottle for drainage to make sure the plants do not get waterlogged
•   Thread the string through a hole and pull out through the other. Always tie a knot around a washer so the bottles do not slip on the rope.
•   Fill the bottle with garden soil and seedlings/saplings of your choice
•   And then simply stretch and attach the rope to the wall.
6. Spray Bottle: This is the simplest yet a practical way to reuse a plastic bottle. Wash the bottle with dishwashing liquid. Fill it with water and replace its original cap with a spray nozzle head you can easily find in superstores. Your sprayer is ready, you can either use it to moisten your hair for easier brushing or fill it with a dilute vinegar solution and use it for cleaning windows/mirrors etc.
7. Charging Station for Phone: Cell phone is one of the modern conveniences we just cannot live without. We have to charge our smartphones every day. Sometimes there is no table or shelf near the wall socket where we can put the phone while it is charging. Those messy phone cords are hanging all over the floor which is so annoying.
Let us make it easy by creating an upcycled cell phone charging station. All you need is a shampoo bottle, a marker and a box cutter. Cut the bottle as per your phone and charger size and shape. You can spray/brush paint the bottle or wrap it with colorful tapes.
Writer: Sultan Kiani
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