Clean conscienceGovernment policies to ban plastic is one thing, using conscience to avoid using them is another
Single use plastic has become the most convenient medium of carrying goods nowadays. One million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute and five trillion disposable plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Fifty percent of the plastic we use is single use, which has an average usage of just 12 to 15 minutes but takes 400 to 1000 years to disintegrate. Given this, plastic pollution has become one of the greatest challenges of our times and keeping this in view, the theme for this year’s World Environment Day—observed on June 5—was ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’.
Plastic pollution occurs when plastic accumulates and begins to negatively impact the natural environment. While plastic remains an incredibly useful and versatile material, it also possesses toxic chemicals and it aren’t biodegradable. When plastic-made materials are thrown or washed away, the toxic materials leech into the environment, adversely affecting terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Also, it is said that plastics could act as magnet for other pollutants like pesticides and metals as well. Today plastics are everywhere—fishing nets used worldwide for commercial fishing, plastic packaging of food, plastic cutlery, straws in restaurants and plastic shopping bags, just to name a few.
Plastic pollution also creates imbalances in the food chain harming all organisms, from planktons to human beings. When small living organisms are poisoned due by plastic, large organisms that consume them also suffer. The news of dead whales, dolphins and other marine species due to the ingestion of plastic, have become common place. Humans ingesting plastic microparticles through the fish we consume is also increasingly becoming a reason for alarm.
Although policies matter, it alone will not act as a panacea to the problem of plastic pollution. Small individual actions count and joint effort of individuals, stakeholders, businesses and governments could lead to concrete solutions in curbing the plastic problem.
But first, we can start from small initiatives like bringing our own shopping bags to the market, refusing plastic cutlery, using refill water bottles and coffee mugs, cooperating with the government to manage waste in a sustainable manner and urging the manufacturing industry to come up with sustainable alternatives. If we have plastic bags and equipments, reusing them as much as possible rather than just once will go a long way too. Educating industries, business and restaurants about alternatives is another potential solution. Bags containing less than 20 micron are particularly harmful for the environment. Therefore, citizens should work in tandem with the local governments and manufacturers of plastic bags in order to discouraging their usage.
Plastic pollution today is a global problem and Nepal has not been spared from its consequences either. In Nepal, the use of plastic bags has multiplied exponentially in the past decades and though Nepal government imposed a ban on the use of plastic bags that are less than 20 microns thick in 2010, the provision has not seen robust implementation due to the lack of guidelines and monitoring.
The bitter truth is that these policies couldn’t bring expected change. Unless plastic-free business alternatives are provided to the business community, proper monitoring and supervision activities are implemented and education and awareness levels raised, a plastic-free society will remain a distant dream.
On World Environment Day, #BeatPlasticPollution had been trending on social media and it is encouraging to see so many individuals and organisations unite for the singular cause of curbing plastic pollution. It goes without saying that there is no plant B and it is our duty to pass on a livable and sustainable earth to future generations. To that end, taking little steps and minimising plastic use bit by bit in our daily life might not seem like much, but when these little efforts are combined, big changes are possible. From this environment day onwards, let’s pledge to redefine our behavior, and more importantly use our purchasing power for the collective good.
Thapaliya is an Agri-Internee with the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernisation Project