Words || Masumi Parmar
The plastic ban. Some are wholeheartedly for it, some are on the complete flip side. Countries across the globe are picking their sides and stances. Some are begrudgingly making miniscule changes to their laws to help decrease plastic waste, others have strictly shunned plastic as a whole.
Before diving into the conversation of who is doing what to help mother nature, let’s look at some facts. The average plastic bag from a grocery store has a usage span of around twelve minutes, after which they are forgotten. Plonked into another plastic bag full of plastic bags or immediately met with the trash can, also lined with plastic. We all know of the journey it’s met with after that. We all learnt it in school, yet we all choose to forget it out of convenience. What we must remember though, is that it’s for the convenience of human beings. When our plastic bags are left in a corner of our houses before consequently sent out of our homes, they start a harrowing journey.
One that lasts a thousand years. Every plastic bag ever made, used and handled is still rotting in some corner of our earth. May that be in the ocean where it injures an estimated 100,000 marine animals per year or in landfills that starving children pick through, hoping to find some means to live.
For many, the transition is quite difficult due to the reliance most of us have on the plastic. It’s our cutlery, take away boxes, bags, containers, bottles, everything. Not to mention the easy accessibility of plastic materials. It’s budget friendly and effective. Buying the same products that are made from other materials would not only require a change of habit but a change in the amount on what we would have to spend. For some, this is too big an ask. Some countries have plans of eventually banning plastic, giving their residents time to slowly get used to a plastic free and eco-friendly life.
Malaysia is one of those countries. Producing nearly a million tons of plastic waste that was not disposed of well or recycled, Malaysia has become the eighth biggest plastic polluter worldwide. The government, instead of defending their actions, have decided to tackle the problem. The Malaysian government announced that it will launch a roadmap that leads to eliminating single use plastic by the year 2030. The roadmap would include ways in which plastic manufacturers can transition to more eco-friendly alternatives such as reusable cutlery and straws. The government does not want to kill all of the plastic industries instantly, preferring to prepare them for the change. The country has started implementing taxes on plastic bags and eateries have been instructed to only give customers plastic straws upon request (before plastic straws are completely banned in 2020). The government intends to allow eateries to keep plastic straws on hand though for those who are differently abled and need plastic straws for their daily lives. At the start of 2019 the government has already started on their roadmap by setting up awareness campaigns on the negative impacts of single use plastics.
Kenya on the flip side decided not to give their citizens any time to make the transition. Instead they made an incredibly bold move by completely banning the import, production and sale of single use plastic bags in August 2017. Before one of their “toughest laws” was introduced, Kenya, like many countries still do, distributed single use plastic bags for free to consumers. Post-ban however, the country has seen many improvements including the transformation of cityscapes and less livestock accidentally consuming plastic bags. Citizens who were once lost without the convenience of single use plastic bags have now adapted to the ban by carrying their own reusable bags. Many African nations such as Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Burundi are considering following Kenya’s example. No one can deny the benefits it has brought the country, from cleaner waterways, plastic free roads, less “flying toilets” (a practice in which people defecate in plastic bags, tie them up and throw them onto tin roofs) and less plastic bags found in animals taken to slaughter. However, many are still upset with the ban due to the high costs of reusable bags that cut into already low profit margins. Many small businesses worry that they may not be able to sustain themselves especially since locals refuse to pay for their carry bags. It has truly shaken the economy regardless of its positive impacts.
Many Asian countries have also made an effort to reduce their plastic waste. In the year 2016 Indonesia conducted a three month trial where they placed a tax on plastic bags in their major cities. Despite the fall of plastic bag usage, which decreased by more than 50 per cent, retailers refused to sustain the tax. They complained that there was no “reasonable legal basis” for the “controversial policy”. The government tried to impose the ban again in 2018 but it failed due to protests from the country’s plastic manufacturers. Cambodia, on the other hand, introduced a levy on plastic bags in April of 2018. The fee is limited to supermarkets and shopping centres only, but the government intends to expand it to wet markets and other retail outlets. In August 2018, Philippines followed suit by banning plastic utensils, bags and straws from all government offices and initiatives. They also enforced zero-waste policies in cities where plastic bags have been completely banned. Singapore has yet to announce any policies that either ban or tax single use plastic, instead favouring alternative approaches to plastic waste by introducing awareness campaigns. China also introduced a ban on lightweight plastics and has reported a 66 per cent drop in plastic bag usage since the implementation.
Ireland has been victorious in reducing plastic bag litter since the country implemented a tax on the single use bags. And in British Columbia grocery stores are now prohibited from offering and selling plastic bags to their customers. Instead, only paper bags and reusable bags may be sold to customers.
Countries worldwide have a long way to go before single use plastic can be a thing of the past. Hopefully, thanks to initiatives, both big and small, being taken by countries across the globe, a difference can be made, minds can be changed and mother earth can be saved.