Drowning in plasticToday, just in Kathmandu, people use 4,700,000 to 4,800,000 plastic bags daily
Things have changed a lot since our grandfather’s time. My father often recalls how plastic bags had slowly started entering Nepal when he was my age. Having a plastic bag was a matter of pride. At that time, just one bag was used more than a dozen times by the local people; a single plastic bag had immense value. Just like in other parts of the world, plastic rapidly grew in popularity and production in Nepal due to its light weight, claimed reusability and cheap price. Can youths of the country today imagine a world without plastic? Probaby not and that is okay. Our grandparents, at that time, probably could not have imagined plastic clogging and polluting the rivers and lands of Nepal either.
Today, just in Kathmandu, people use 4,700,000 to 4,800,000 plastic bags daily. Moreover, 2.7 tonnes of plastic waste is produced daily here. Note that we are talking about a city where a ban on plastic bags less than 40 microns thick was imposed in 2015. When we look around our Valley, river banks and landfill sites are covered with mountains of garbage—16 percent of it just plastic. Do you know how this will affect us and the whole world?
Not quite, because plastic is not going away any soon. All the plastic ever produced is still existent and is sure to be around for the next five generations. Plastic is a non-biodegradable material made from fossil fuels. Once produced, it never goes away. If you burn it, you severely poison the air. If you dispose of it in rivers, it ends up polluting and clogging them. If you throw it in landfills, it produces a poisonous liquid that seeps into our agricultural soil. Also, plastic can never be completely recycled—it can only be down cycled once.
Kathmandu does not have a proper waste management system or a recycling system. The immense amount of plastic we are using irresponsibly is sure to hamper the environment, public health and our major economic source, tourism. Our irresponsibility does not only hamper us, it affects the world. All our polluted rivers end up in the ocean. In fact, 93 percent of the global plastic pollution occurring now has been contributed by just 10 rivers around the world. We need to stop using plastic because although it seems convenient for just a moment of our day, it will create inconveniences for the many marine animals for years and years to come. It is astounding to know that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than marine animals. Each morning before you start your day, remember the choices that each one of us can make to contribute to this global problem of plastic pollution in a positive or negative way.
One thing that I love about the people of my country is their growing love for local products these days. We have started to realise the importance of encouraging local markets and creating local employment. I mention this here because a lot of our Nepali products have traditionally been made from biodegradable materials. They are sturdy and environment-friendly. Rather than using those suffocating and weak plastic bags, if we become more responsive to the efforts made by our local markets, we are sure to make that investment of buying a cloth bag. Using cloth bags means we will produce less plastic waste, which will certainly empower our tourism industry. Also, although the government has been trying to create a waste management system, it is high time that we Nepalis strengthened our own recycling habits, and supported local cleanup efforts and recycling companies. Reducing the amount of plastic waste that goes into the land and rivers can save many animals in our country and the world.
Plastic pollution should not be an issue that is brought to light only on World Environment Day. Articles and activism about the importance of eliminating
single-use plastic from our lives should not be published and promoted only on June 5. It should be actively encouraged every single day. The severity of this global issue demands that we act quickly and persistently. You are responsible for the waste you produce for as long as it is there, not as long as it is not in your house. Plastic has already been banned in Kathmandu. It is the willingness and responsibility of each one of us to sincerely start implementing this law for the benefit of ourselves and the world. This December, prepare to enter the new year with minimal plastic. Let’s start from here: Make a conscious effort each and every day to use one less plastic bag.
- Pradhan currently studies at Bennington College, Vermont, USA.