Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Plastic pollution, one of the biggest environmental concerns of our time

The recent decision of the government to reinforce the ban on plastic bags has triggered some interesting debates on social media. Many people still believe that plastic pollution can be addressed better through public education, not through policies or levies. But the experiences that we have got over the past 20 years tell us that these two should go together. When the ban on plastic bags was first introduced in 1999, there was no enough public awareness on the harmful effects of plastic wastes. As a result, the single-use plastic bags and other plastic products continued to appear in the market and litter our natural environment: polluting our soil, air and water. Of course, there was a time when we started getting Doma, meat and some other products wrapped in newspapers but with no proper public education and monitoring system in place, this initiative could not last long. Today, most of us are aware of the adverse impact of plastic wastes on our environment and health, but with no active policy in place, we have become complacent over the years.

Now that the government has decided to reinforce the ban from this year, it is important to thoroughly educate the general mass on how getting rid of plastic wastes can save our environment and contributes to our health and wellbeing. This calls for the government to invest heavily on public awareness campaigns through mass media and other viable outlets before re-activating the ban. If we don’t fully commit ourselves to this noble cause, we can’t make a difference in the community. The general public and the government should always work together with the same level of commitment and understanding.

Bhutan is not the only country grappling with plastic pollution. With more than five trillion tonnes of plastic wastes produced across the globe every year, the management of those non-biodegradable wastes is becoming one of the biggest challenges of our time. The rapid growth and expansion of the world’s economy over the past six or seven decades has led to the mass production of plastics that can be found everywhere today. The ever-increasing bulk of plastic wastes that are coming out of private homes, offices, businesses and industries every day are littering our natural environment and affecting our lives. The worst thing about these wastes is that they are non-degradable and can exist in the environment forever. We must know that even the first toothbrush we have used in our life is still lying somewhere. Moreover, the lightness of these materials make it easier for the wind and inland waterways to carry them from one place to another, contaminating not only the land but also the rivers and seas. Today, the plastics are clogging the drainage systems in the cities, causing floods and creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other micro-organisms that are responsible for the outbreak of different vector-born diseases. They are also often eaten by farm animals and fishes mistaking them for food and hence, they make their way to our dinner plate. Even burning them is said to release toxic gases into the air since they are made of petroleum-based chemicals. Plastics are therefore dangerous not only to the natural environment, but also to public health.

Bhutan is certainly not the first country to ban the use of plastic bags. More than 50 nations have so far banned the single-use plastic carrier bags in a bid to tackle climate change and the world has already started seeing positive outcomes. Rwanda which is one of the first countries to impose the ban on plastic bags has become one of the cleanest nations in the world today. In Bhutan too, it is not impossible to achieve the same outcome if all of us come together to work as a team. But for the ban to work effectively, the government should make sure that we have equally convenient and cost-effective alternative substitutes for plastics. Although the initial phase of the ban is going to include only plastic carrier bags and Doma wrappers, the markets should have enough paper/cloth bags, if not biodegradable plastics for replacement. Any inconvenience for the customers could lead to the violation of the ban.

It is indeed a noble initiative taken by the government to not only protect our pristine environment forever, but also to reduce the flow of plastic wastes into the ocean through our rivers. No matter what strategies we come up with, our ultimate goal should be to get rid of plastic wastes either by managing them effectively or not using non-biodegradable plastics at all. Since plastic bags have been so convenient and cheap for us, it would be quite difficult to accept the change at the beginning. But with time, I hope we all would learn to appreciate the common cause we all are standing for.

No comments:

Post a Comment