We may all agree that plastic bags provide a convenient means of either carrying our groceries or storing some of these items.
Perhaps, we do not know the extent of harm that plastic does to the environment.
Plastic bags have created towering piles in most of our dumpsites across many African cities. And the environmental hazards resulting from plastic bags were so many such that when Kenya’s Environment Cabinet Secretary Judy Wakhungu announced a complete ban on plastic bags this week, she was greeted with cheers from most quarters.
UN’s environmental agency Unep estimates that 100 million plastic bags were given out in Kenya by supermarkets alone every year.
Top in Africa
It is estimated that Kenya churns out over 24 million plastic bags per month. Kenya now becomes the 11th country in the world to impose a ban on plastic bags and among the top in Africa, joining Mauritania, Eritrea and Rwanda.
The plastic bag waste in Kenya had reached a certain annoying rate, according to environmentalists such that when the ban was announced, Unep executive director Erik Solheim described the act as Kenya’s “decisive action to remove an ugly stain on its outstanding natural beauty”.
At the moment, the world has an estimated 275 million metric tonnes of plastic trash, thus creating an enormous economic burden. Because we are usually not good at recycling, we end up tossing these bags away after use.
Plastics are not biodegradable and can last longer -1,000 years in the ecosystem, releasing chemicals all this time.
It is not only that they are an eyesore when carelessly dumped, but are also a threat to our wildlife and even livestock which die after eating them.
Remember plastic bags are a major source of ocean litter. Unep estimates that about 80 per cent of our ocean litter comes from plastic, thus costing $8 billion damage to the marine ecosystem.
The environmental body approximates that by 2050, our oceans will carry more plastic than fish.
When burnt as a method of disposal, they release toxic substance to the air that we breathe. They do not contain safer chemicals.
They also leak colour additives into the food we eat when used to wrap hot foodstuff.
Plastic also block our waterways, clog our sewages and many a times block our drainage system. They also help in the spread of malaria, which is one of Africa’s biggest killers, by providing good breeding grounds.
Microplastics (like those beads on our facial scrubs or body scrubs) at times end up on our dinner tables as sea food.
And if you thought life without plastic bags was impossible, then you are wrong. Just take a trip to Rwanda.
Non-biodegradable polythene bags have been illegal in Rwanda since 2008, forcing many businesses to replace carrier bags with paper bags and it has paid off.
Kigali is so clean such as no plastic bags can be sighted at all.
Though proponents of plastic argue that it is far much cheaper and has many uses than paper bags, as they point out that more tree will be felled to produce the latter, the benefits of this ban outweigh their continued use.
The way forward after the ban?
Our governments could provide market for environmentally friendly bags and many people will embrace them.
We could also promote reuse and recycling of the ones we already have instead of tossing them away as waste.
By banning plastic bags, we are avoiding disaster in future.