You must be all familiar with those pictures where cute little, or not so little animals are entangled in plastic. There is a reason why the media likes to feature these images. It ought to generate an emotional response in the audience. And it usually does!
For a brief moment the reader may feel a pang of horrible guilt and as a result maybe even a determination to make a change. Whether this determination lasts or not, is an entirely different subject and by far beyond the scope of this article. For the sake of the argument, let’s assume that the it is a lasting sensation, the beginning of real action.
The painful realisation
So the reader will decide, that he or she will avoid plastic at all cost. It is time to change those plastic bags to tote bags, foldaway grocery bags and so on. They will then go to the shop and realise they have taken on an impossible challenge. The painful realisation hits hard, that the vast majority of the vegetables and fruits is suffocated in plastic. The cucumber they wanted to buy for dinner is tightly packed in single-use plastic, not recyclable of course. The apple they wanted to buy to pack with the kid’s lunch may even be individually wrapped.
Then they move on, and start to think, they haven’t got a chance whatsoever. The meat they will cook is plastic wrapped, the milk they use in their tea is in plastic containers. The toilet paper they will buy is in plastic wrapping. The rice and pasta they want to buy is in plastic package. It is everywhere!
Globally, well over 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced each year! This 300 million tonnes of plastic can be recycled, go to landfill, incinerated or end up in our environment. The proportion of plastic that is being recycled varies by regions.
The numbers are not so great, at all. Let this be a moment of awakening. Humans created something indestructible, for a momentary pleasure. Essentially this is what it is. You may have a plastic bag that comes with your grocery for a few hours, days, sometimes even weeks. Then it will end up as waste, one way or another, but that is not the end of its lifecycle. It seems there is no end to its lifecycle, it doesn’t degrade. It will be around for a very, very long time.
I often say, that for a lot of environmental issues a bottom-up approach is what we need to take. It is the individual, who can make significant changes. I am convinced that consumers could make a difference in terms of plastic pollution as well. If there is no demand, there will be no need for plastic!
However, I also think that legislation should be put in place to phase out plastics, and ultimately divert the population from throw-away consumerism.
Kenya and its drastic plastic ban
Kenya has taken an incredibly radical approach. Did you know that for using, manufacturing, importing or selling a plastic bag in Kenya, you could be fined up to 40000 USD, or even go to jail? I bet you didn’t!
Professor Judy Wangalwa Wakhungu was the first woman to be appointed as Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. She is the woman who is responsible for banning single-use plastic bags from Kenya and therefore a true woman of impact!
Naturally you would expect resistance, and of course there was, mainly from businesses making a living from the manufacture of these plastic bags. Judy received threats, and took her years to negotiate with unions and other stakeholders/interested parties. When finally she had enough, she gave a 6 months notice and introduced the policy. 28th of August, 2017 the ban came into place and what a fantastic success this was! It was, in fact, such a success, that some other African nation may follow the example, such as South Sudan or Uganda.
People are creative. Especially when it comes to taking and finding short cuts of how to go around the law. What Judy realised, is that the only thing that deters them from doing so is extremely high, or you might say harsh penalties. It is my understanding, that the court frequently lets first offenders go with either a small fine or nothing at all.
Nonetheless, Kenya’s streets are cleaner today, and significantly less animals die with plastic in their digestive system.
On that bombshell…
This is a two-way street. Whilst it is important that we, as individuals make conscious, and different choices, we also need cooperation from our leadership. I probably said this quite a few times in my previous posts, but we need to elect leaders that appreciate and honour the importance and the urge we need to act with.
We need legislation and policies to enforce and act as a deterrent, or it might take too long to implement changes before we make irreversible mistakes.