Plastic Pollution, Structure of Plastics, Recycling of Plastic, Effects of Plastics (For CBSE, ICSE, IAS, NET, NRA 2022)

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  • Accumulation of plastics in the environment results in Plastic Pollution, which causes an imbalance in the ecological cycle. Plastic products take around 450 years for decomposing and after that approximately 50 years to decay.
  • The first plastic was invented in the year 1862, which means that no plastic product has ever been made on the earth has completely decomposed yet.
  • Rapid urbanization and industrialization have led to air, water, and land pollution. Fishing industries release an enormous amount of garbage including plastic material (about 150,000 tons) every year in the water bodies like oceans, rivers, etc. which adversely affects the aquatic biodiversity. Animals like cows sometimes consume the plastic. The consumption of plastic materials by animals clogs the inner lining of the stomach and choke the respiratory system of such animals.

Structure of Plastics

Plastics are made up of polyethylene. As the name suggests it is made up of two words:

  • Polyethylene is a polymer of ethene. Depending on the arrangement of monomers, polyethylene can be classified as:
    • Linear polyethylene
    • Branched polyethylene

Linear Polyethylene

Linear Polyethene is just a long chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms bonded to it in a linear manner

Linear Polyethylene

Branched Polyethylene

  • Branched polyethene is a crisscross structure of carbon and hydrogen atoms with substituent carbon atoms attached to the main carbon chain forming a branched structure.
  • By chemical properties of the polymer, there can be two types of plastics: thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics.


Polymers that can repeatedly be deformed by the application of heat are known as thermoplastic polymers. They are easier to bend.

Thermoplastic Polymers


Polymers that change the shape on heating but once they are set, they cannot be remodeled even on application of heat. Example: Bakelite and melamine. Bakelite has commonly used in the making of heat resistant handles of the cooking utensils, switches, etc.


Recycling of Plastic

  • Recycling of plastic is very important. If they are not recycled at the proper time, then they get mixed with other chemicals or materials and hence become more difficult to recycle and become a source of pollution.
  • They are non-biodegradable, and they do not get decomposed by the microbial action.
  • To avoid this, it is important to use biopolymers or biodegradable polymers.

Properties of Plastic

  • Strong and ductile
  • Poor conductors of heat and electricity
  • Easily moulded into different shape and size
  • Resist corrosion and are resistant to many chemicals.

Effects of Plastics

  • Be it food packets, toys, storage packing, furniture or electronic items, plastics are so widely used that imagining our lives without it is impossible. It is one of the best substitutes for wood, thus reducing the cutting of trees and helping the environment. On the other hand, sometimes it poses problems too, for example: when it comes to their disposal. Upon usage, artifacts made from plastic sustain wear and tear and become brittle, so it is necessary to dispose of.
  • For e. g. , a plastic chair being used for five years cannot be used further or a plastic sachet containing shampoo cannot be reused to store shampoo again. So, what do we do with these items? Most often, these are thrown into the dustbin, which is then collected by the municipal corporation. But what if they are not disposed of properly? We have seen heaps of garbage lying along the roads or in the drains or other water bodies, clogging them. Plastics, supposed to be a boon to the environment is now becoming a bane.
Effects of Plastics

Harmful Effects of Plastics

Improper disposal of plastics poses a number of problems. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Littering of plastics in open spaces creates unhygienic conditions, as it acts as a breeding ground for insects and mosquitoes that cause diseases like malaria and dengue.
  • Plastics do not undergo degradation, thus, remain in the soil for many years, which affects soil fertility and degrades the soil quality.
  • When plastic artifacts enter the drainage and sewerage system, they block the pipes and the drains causing waterlogging.
  • The improperly disposed of food bags, when eaten by animals, cause stomach and intestine related disease which even lead to suffocation and death.
  • Plastic items find their way to the river and other water bodies, which are then swallowed by fish, seabirds, and other marine species, thus leading to suffocation and death.
  • The waste from the plastic manufacturing industry is thrown directly into the water bodies, thus affecting the chemical property of water, causing hazards on a very large-scale.

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