A Whole Lot of Plastic!

A Whole Lot of Plastic!A Whole Lot of Plastic!

Take a stroll down any one of Iran’s beaches and you are guaranteed to find plastic bags and bottles scattered all over the coastline. While environmentalists try to collect the trash as often as they can, a large amount still ends up in the water, endangering all forms of marine life.

“Unless our growing plastic consumption is checked, we risk a massive environmental disaster in 20 years,” Reza Rashedi, a petrochemical engineer and researcher, told YJC.

By some accounts, Iran’s annual plastic consumption tops 2.5 million tons; meaning every person uses just over 31 kilograms of plastic every year.

In Tehran, 7,500 tons of waste are produced daily, 1,000 tons of which are plastic. Experts believe if every household in the capital used one plastic bag less every week, it would lead to 816 million less bags used in a year.

Reusing or recycling one ton of plastic means the equivalent of saving 11 barrels of oil.

“We are unable to manage plastic production and consumption because there are no clear rules pertaining to their use,” Rashedi said. “Furthermore, reusing and recycling plastic has not become commonplace.”

Many developed nations have laws in place to reduce or ban plastic bag consumption, or have taken measures to promote the use of reusable, biodegradable material. In Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, plastic bags are taxed, while Italy banned the use of single-use plastic bags in 2010.

  Convenience Trumps Harm

Plastic bags are cheap, easy to use and sturdy. It is hardly surprising then that they are found in almost every grocery store in the remotest part of the country.

However, many people are not aware of the environmental impact of plastic bags and a great many who know about the problems caused by them cite the fact that plastic bags are very low priority in the face of other more pressing environmental concerns.

Plastic bags are not biodegradable; in other words, they do not decompose by biological agents such as bacteria.

They do, however, break down after 100 to 500 years. Once broken down, they release toxic chemicals that contain flame retardants and plasticizers among others, which seep into soils, lakes, rivers and the oceans. Some of those chemicals can cause hormonal imbalance that gives rise to several health problems.

Plastic bags are especially harmful to marine animals and are one of the most common types of garbage found on the shores of the Caspian Sea in the north and Persian Gulf in the south – two key tourist resorts.

Marine animals, mostly sea turtles, tend to confuse plastic litter in the oceans for food. The plastic blocks the digestive tract and causes death. Scientists have discovered male fish with female sexual organs because the chemicals cause an overproduction of estrogen.

The environmental hazards of plastic bags should be widely publicized in Iran, and Rashedi says it must begin at home.

“We have to separate plastic from other waste and use plastic alternatives, such as paper bags and ceramic dishes, as often as we can.”