THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : It’s been more than a year since the City Corporation imposed a blanket ban on plastic carry bags. Though there was a slight positive shift in people’s attitude towards using cloth and paper carry bags, the presence of plastic in the food industry, especially in the food packaging industry, remains a serious issue which is yet to be addressed. Research has found that certain harmful chemicals can melt and mix with food at high temperature. Dioxin, a plastic component melts into the food and causes harmful health problems and the condition of severity depends on the amount of toxin the person is exposed to.
“There will be a change only if people are aware of the harmful effects of plastic. When hot curry or food item is poured into a plastic bag or packed with plastic foils, harmful chemicals get mixed with the food. These can be cancerous. Only if people realise the danger, there can be a change,” says Anil Kumar N V, Health Inspector. Despite weekly raids by Corporation’s health inspectors, there has not been a major reduction in the use of plastic to pack food items. “Recently, we seized about 60 tonnes of plastic from different shops. Mostly street food vendors operating in the night use plastic for packing hot food items. Nowadays, they stock only a little in their shops, so even if we raid, we can only seize some. This is a new strategy,” adds Anil Kumar.
In the last budget, it was decided that Thiruvananthapuram should be made a low carbon city. The main aim is to gradually reduce carbon emission. Part of this initiative, a ‘no burn campaign’ was started aimed at a total ban of the burning of plastic and dry leaves. “In the last 15 years, there has been a surge in the use of plastic in our state. This has changed the health scenario of our state. Plastic has lately been one of the main reasons for cancer. There are two common reasons where dioxin gets mixed with what we eat and drink. The first one is when people pour hot water into plastic bottles, this is very dangerous. The second instance is when hot food items are parcelled in plastic. This is a very common practice in night street stalls,” says Dr A Sasikumar, Health Officer, City Corporation.
Even after major campaigns against the ill effects of food packing with plastic, there has not been any major difference in the attitude of people. “Our first priority is to create awareness. The ‘Green Army’, which includes students of NSS, NCC, Scouts, and Guides from different schools of Thiruvananthapuram, has been actively involved in creating awareness. There are about 40 units of the green army and already four camps have been conducted to impart knowledge in this area. The next generation is our strength, we have to enlighten them,” adds Sasikumar.
As an alternative, using eco-friendly containers made of biodegradable materials and initiating the culture of dabbas (metal containers) to take away food rather than packing it in plastic containers or plastic coated paper rappers can be a good option. This sort of dabba culture is already in practice in many parts of Tamil Naidu. Many branches of restaurants chain like Annapoorna, Anandhaas in various parts of Chennai have already started giving the takeaways in dabbas.
l Dioxin a plastic component which melts into food can cause serious health problems
l When heated plastic releases Bisphenol A or dioxin. Dioxin, a plastic component is a dangerous carcinogenic component or a cancer stimulating agent