THE PLASTIC SCOURGE

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

United Nations

As everyone knows, plastic waste is the bane of our environment. Educating the public to reduce wastage should continue to be encouraged. Unfortunately, there will always be selfish people out there that simply refuse to do their part. Since plastic waste continues to grow in spite of greater awareness, instead of reducing demand, is it wise to ban plastic bags altogether like some countries do?

A Case Study of Kenya

Last month, Kenya has joined fellow African countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia in banning plastic bags (Kiprop, 2017). Anyone caught having possession of plastic bags risks facing a heavy fine or being jailed for up to four years (theguardian, 2017). Supermarkets alone used to give away about 100 million plastic bags every year. Besides posing a threat to the environment, the improper disposal of plastic bags provides an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes that transmit malaria, a disease detrimental to human health (UNEP, 2017). As a developing country, with inefficient waste management and limited healthcare services, combatting the plastic menace becomes particularly challenging. Hence, I believe that banning plastic bags in Kenya is a right step towards a cleaner environment for all.

What about Singapore?

Although the cleanliness of our coasts leaves much to be desired, I cannot deny that Singapore is largely clean. Malaria rates are low and our comprehensive disposal system ensures that the streets of Singapore are free from piles of junk. Of course, credit also goes to our hardworking cleaners. As such, there is currently no real need to impose a hasty ban here. Personally I do not wish to see plastic bags get banned. Being lightweight and waterproof, plastic bags are especially ideal for storing our rubbish as compared to water-absorbent paper bags, among other things. Instead of a total ban, we should aim to cut down on excessive usage and take only what we need. The government can consider dangling more carrots in the form of greater monetary incentives to get people to bring reusable bags for grocery shopping. Ten-cent discounts never seem to be enough.

Yet the amount of waste continues to increase, and Pulau Semakau, our only landfill, will be full by 2035 (NEA, n.d.). Should the problem of future waste overwhelms Singapore to the point of no return, then likely the government may have no choice but to whip out the stick and ban plastic bags altogether. It is an inconvenient but a necessary evil to prevent any further environmental degradation. Obviously, I hope that this will never happen in Singapore.

Till next time.

Jun Yu

References

Kenya brings in world’s toughest plastic bag ban: four years jail or $40,000 fine (2017, August 28). Theguardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/28/kenya-brings-in-worlds-toughest-plastic-bag-ban-four-years-jail-or-40000-fine

Kenya announces breakthrough ban on plastic bags (2017, March 15). UNEP. Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/newscentre/kenya-announces-breakthrough-ban-plastic-bags

Semakau Landfill brochure (n.d.). National Environmental Agency. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov.sg/docs/default-source/energy-waste/waste-management/sl_tmts-brochure.pdf

Photo from https://media.mnn.com/assets/images/2009/06/plastic-bags-landfill.jpg.560x0_q80_crop-smart.jpg

Victor Kiprop (2017, September 7). Finally, Kenya effects ban on plastic bags. The EastAfrican. Retrieved from http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/business/Kenya-effects-ban-on-plastic-bags-/2560-4086512-10oy0x4/index.html

 

 

4 thoughts on “THE PLASTIC SCOURGE

  1. I recently read something about a fungus which feeds on plastic. Apparently it was found in a landfill in Pakistan. Do u think that this could be a viable solution to our plastic problem?

  2. Hi Dr Coleman! Thanks for commenting on my blog post!

    The reason for my argument is to highlight the contrast between the cleanliness of the streets in Singapore and that in Kenya. Perhaps I should have elaborated on my argument further.

    Millions of barrels of oil and natural gas are used to manufacture plastic. As oil and natural gas are non-renewable, it is indeed wasteful to dispose so much plastic after using it only once. I agree that we could do away with some kinds of plastic such as the infamous plastic straw. However, the usage of other kinds of plastic remains a complex issue. We cannot forget the qualities of plastic that explains its pervasiveness in the first place: lightweight, waterproof, and durable. Let us examine the use of plastic on a wider scale.

    In the medical industry, the key advantage of plastic is that plastic helps to preserve hygiene and reduce contamination. For example, syringes and tubings, which include the IV tubing and dialysis tubing, are made of plastic to limit the potential for disease transmission (NN, Inc., n.d.). Blood and other mixtures are also usually stored in plastic bags. These plastic items are disposable in nature to prevent any form of contamination in the interest of human health. As such, sometimes the use of disposable plastic is necessary especially when human health is concerned. Back in my army days, we soldiers are required to store our items in plastic ziplock bags to make our item packs airtight and waterproof. Once again, being lightweight and waterproof, plastic becomes the best choice for storing our items so that our operational needs are not compromised. Until other cost-effective viable alternatives are discovered, plastic will be here to stay. Taking into account the widespread plastic use in various fields, a total ban of plastic, even if it is used only once, is hasty and rather unwise.

    What about plastic bags?

    In bigger buildings like shopping malls, big black plastic bags are used to line our rubbish bins, as it is the most suitable material for the storage of rubbish. What if we employ huge paper bags to store dry waste? It sounds good but we have to consider inconsiderate people that throw wet waste into paper bags, which causes leakage and water has to be wasted to clean up the filth.

    With that in mind, the best way to combat the plastic scourge is to get households to reduce their consumption of plastic bags as much as possible. Using reusable bags for shopping bags should be further promoted and incentivised, while using plastic bags should not be make free. Incidentally, as I am typing this comment, supermarkets in Singapore are currently discussing on implementing a plastic bag surcharge (Tan and Boh, 2017). (I apologise that this piece of news comes from the Sunday Times again.) This is long overdue. The main problem with Singaporeans, or humans in general, is that any provision of a free good will inevitably lead to an excessive usage of that good. We can talk about the harmful effects of plastic bags but if they are provided free, households will still continue using plastic bags in excess. Such measures to reduce consumption is a step in the right direction towards a cleaner environment, and arguably wiser as compared to implementing a blanket ban. Education should always continue as well, and yesterday’s trip to Pulau Semakau is one effective example of education. 🙂

    Plastic is not the root of all environmental evil. It is how we human beings choose to manage our plastic usage that truly matters.

    Jun Yu

    References:

    Perfect Plastic: How Plastic Improves Our Lives (n.d.). NN, Inc. (NNBR). Retrieved from http://www.pepctplastics.com/resources/connecticut-plastics-learning-center/perfect-plastic-how-plastic-improves-our-lives/

    Audrey Tan and Samantha Boh (2017, September 24). Supermarts in talks to charge for plastic bags. The StraitsTimes. Retrieved from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/supermarkets-in-talks-to-charge-for-plastic-bags

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