Who are we to decide if plastic is biodegradable or not!

I can see that even a day after World Environment Day, the #BeatPlasticPollution hashtag is still trending with the adjective #nonbiodegradable in close tandem. And, as I did write an article that mildly questioned the idea of overnight removal of single-use plastic, I am now facing some ire of the planet saviours, so I am tempted to get more annoying!

As I look at innumerable posts awarding the grand prize of “non-biodegradability” to plastic, I am struck by the incredible audacity we humans are capable of.

Who on Earth are We to decide, that too on behalf of biology, the unarguably greatest force in the universe, that plastic is non-biodegradable!!!

So, let us get real folks. Let us get down from the anthropocentric high horse that we love to ride and understand who actually calls the shots on the planet that we have the audacity to call our planet, as if we own or run it.

This planet is just a large pot of chemical interactions, and a very minuscule part of all those chemical interactions that take place is experienced by an insignificantly small creature called human as life.

We are just one of the trillions of small bags where biological experiments are conducted by organic chemistry. We are surely not a species who has any claim to fame in terms of how the chemistry of life deals with the universe, especially when universe decides to get a bit inconvenient.

If the planet is really owned by any set of life-forms, it is not us, but the microbial life forms that have eternally occupied the centre stage in the greatest and longest running live-show on earth.

As we can’t see them, and as our brain is dumbed down by evolution to believe only what we can see, we are one of the most delusional creatures that ever walked the planet. Reality is, the world is run by microbes for billions of years and it is likely to stay just that way.

So, when it comes to the biodegradability of plastic, we are almost the last species that should be making comments. If anyone who has a say here, it is most likely bacteria, as they are the real researchers of life on earth.

So, when you make absurd statements like “it will take 1000 years for plastic to biodegrade”, please speak only for yourself, and not life on earth.

Let us cognise the simple fact that plastic is new to life on earth. It has not been around for even a nanosecond at the scale of life. If it is not biodegrading, it is most likely that life has not had enough opportunity to work on breaking the brand new chemical bonds that plastic has, or life has not found it worth developing on that theme.

But, just because it is not biodegrading today surely doesn’t mean that it won’t!

It is entirely likely that, somewhere in the laboratory of life on the planet, some microbes have discovered plastic and are already working on gaining from this brand new ecological niche of eating plastic that has arrived.

As biology uses brute force of astronomical experiments, plastic can’t claim eternal immunity from its forces to take it down.

The real problem with humans, and the one that is getting a lot worse by the day because of misinformation pressing emotional buttons is that we are getting drawn in saving nature without understanding it.

As nature-saving becomes a big and viable business for people, the tree of misinformation and misunderstanding grows exponentially. This leads humans to invest energy in half-baked ideas like save trees to plastic is non-biodegradable.

Reality is, even if all the trees vanish from the planet due to logging, oxygen will keep getting produced, as most of it is produced by marine microbes. And if diatoms, as they are called by scientists decide to call it a day, the human race would just be one of the million other species that run on aerobic metabolism to vanish.

We are just scratching the surface of life by trying to fathom the visible world of mega-creature, but microbes and their ecosystems are still not really understood by us. Armed with absolutely non-existent information about workings of life, we are already making too many audacious claims.

Humanity needs to grasp that the machinery of life works at a scale beyond our perception, and the sooner we appreciate it, the better are our chances of giving it a company for a longer period on earth.

So, the bigger scientific truth is, plastic or no plastic, microbes will be here, and if they chose to eat plastic, we need to start researching on making it (momentarily) non-degradable!!

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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