Category Polymers

What is stubble burning?

The air quality in Delhi and other parts of north India hit a hazardous level this month. Levels of dangerous particles in the air – known as PM2.5 – were over 10 times the safe limits in the capital. The air quality index (AQI) crossed an all-time high of 1,000 in some places on November 3. As per data, the AQI between 0 and 50 is considered safe, 51-100 satisfactory, 101-200 moderate, 201-300 poor. At 301-400 it’ considered very poor and 401-500 falls in the severe category. When the AQI crosses the 500 mark, it falls into the emergency category.

The odd-even rule, a car rationing scheme, came into effect on November 4. (As per rule, cars with odd numbers will be allowed to run on odd days such as Nov 5, 7 etc., and cars with even numbers will be allowed on even days such as Nov 6, 8, etc.). Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blamed crop burning in Haryana and Punjab for increased pollution levels in the capital during winter.

Air pollution is a year-round problem in Delhi due to vehicular and industrial emission, but the impact is felt more during the winter months. The capital’s low air quality during the winter is attributed to its geography, low wind speed and stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring States of Punjab and Haryana. These farmers have come under fire for taking the air quality to a dangerous level.

Stubble burning is the practice of removing crop residue from fields post-harvest by setting fire to it. This usually happens during October and November (autumn months), as the farmers begin to prepare the field for sowing winter crops – especially wheat.

As the southwest monsoon retreats, it sets off northwesterly winds, which carry the smoke from the burning of stubble towards Delhi and other northern regions.

According to the agriculture ministry, 23 million tonnes of paddy straw is burnt in Punjab, Haryana and UP every year.


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Are there schools that accept plastic as fees?

           Does your school accept plastic as fees? There is a unique school in the outskirts of Guwahati, Assam which does. If a student brings 25 pieces of plastic, it is accepted as fees in Akshar School. The plastic waste that they bring is recycled to make eco-friendly bricks that can be used for construction.

          When Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar started this school in June 2016, their aim was to provide free education to poor kids. Their plan took a slight twist when they saw the villagers making bonfires of plastic to beat the cold.

           They wanted to educate the villagers about the harmful effects of plastic and hence modified the fee structure from having no fees to plastic waste as fees. A practical lesson in recycling! The school provides socially and environmentally relevant education.

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Which is the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags?

           Sikkim, a tiny state in the foothills of the Himalayas is famous not only for its natural beauty and biodiversity, but also for its eco-friendly stands.

           In 1998, Sikkim became the first Indian state to ban disposable plastic bags. They were eliminated from both rural and urban areas and labelled as hazardous. 2016 is an environmentally important year for Sikkim as the state took two landmark decisions. The first was to ban packaged drinking water in government offices and at government events.

           The state has also banned the use of disposable styro-foam and thermocol plates and cutlery.

           It now targets single-use plastic bottles.

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Why is Modbury important?

            Modbury was a not so famous village in England which came to the spotlight in 2007. It secured a place in history with a life-changing decision to ban plastic carry bags forever. Thanks to the efforts of Rebecca Hosking, Modbury is the world’s first ever plastic bag free zone.

           Rebecca screened her documentary Message in the Waves for the local shop owners of her hometown who were stunned to see the disastrous effect of plastic on marine environment. Crushed by the impact of the film, the shopkeepers decided to stop giving plastic bags. After a successful trial run for six months, plastic bags permanently disappeared from Modbury. They now use biodegradable cornstarch bags and reusable cotton, jute or paper bags.

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What are the advantages of bioplastics?

            The production of bioplastics is eco-friendly, as they use renewable sources rather than the non-renewable sources, thus saving a lot of energy. They also make use of agricultural waste material. It produces less non-biodegradable waste than other plastics. It is therefore less contaminating.

            They do not change the scent or taste of the packed food. No harmful substance would leach out of bioplastics and they do not use additives that may affect health like phthalates and bisphenol-A. They give out less greenhouse gases as well. They are decomposable and cause no harm while blending with soil.

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Do we have an eco-friendly alternative to plastics?

           It is ironic that the food items that last less than a week are packed using plastics that stay intact for centuries. Scientists had worked hard to find eco-friendly alternatives and by the 1990s, bioplastic was brought into the markets.

           Plastics are derived from non-renewable sources like petroleum or natural gas. Unlike them, bioplastics are made from renewable sources of biomass like bacteria, food waste, vegetable oils and corn starch. Bioplastics are mainly used for packaging and making disposable cutlery, straws and bowls.

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Why is the documentary Albatross important?

           The documentary Albatross took shape in 2008 after a discussion between Chris Jordan and his friend Manuel Maqueda about the issue of ocean plastic pollution. They studied about young albatrosses dying of indigestion after eating plastic. They recorded what they witnessed in Midway Island in the north of the Pacific Ocean. They worked for more than four hundred hours and the footages were made into a film showcasing the plight of the species. The documentary was released in 2017.

           Albatross projected the devastating effect of plastic on marine ecosystems. It was found that nine in ten birds have traces of plastic debris in them. It helped in understanding the drawbacks of our lifestyle and the severity of the problem.

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Are animals harmed by polymers?

           People in the south coast of Spain woke up to a huge dead sperm whale on a March morning in 2013. After careful examination, it was found out that the whale had died of severe indigestion. About 17 kilograms of plastic was found inside its body which had led to its death.

           This sperm whale is not the first animal to die because of our waste and it is not the last. Plastic poses a threat to the animals around us. Have you observed cows and buffaloes eating plastic from the garbage? These poor animals mistake plastic for food and end up eating it. This is known as food imitation; it leads to severe indigestion and they eventually die.

           Plastic has been found in the bellies of many types of fish and stray animals.

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Is the packaging of Chips eco-friendly?

          Most of us love packaged chips. Let us now take a look at the journey of its packaging. These attractive packages are made of a kind of polypropylene known as BOPP.

          Lead and cadmium-based additives are used in the production of BOPP. This packaging material catches fire easily. To reduce its inflammability, some flame retardants are also used.

          The burning of this packaging material releases harmful substances like formaldehyde which is capable of causing respiratory diseases. Toxic substances are also released while this material is recycled. Workers in the recycling plants have often reported to suffer from health issues like headaches, asthma, skin and nasal irritation due to their exposure to harmful chemicals.

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How does polyurethane affect our environment?

           Commonly known as PU, polyurethane is a polymer that is used to make cushions and mattresses. It is also used as enamel for paints. Though it provides us a comfortable night’s sleep without disturbances, it disturbs our environment. Sad, but true.

           PU cannot be recycled. Sometimes it is burned or simply dumped in landfills. Toxic substances like dioxins are released when PU is burned. You already know what this toxic chemical can do to us. Besides dioxins, other harmful substances like isocyanides and hydrogen cyanides are also produced.

          When PU degrades, it gives out chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) that depletes the ozone layer.

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