Plastic has been a major contributor to pollution all throughout the world. With the advent of the ‘New Age of Plastic’ in the 1950s, it brought about a revolution in the industrial sector, providing a low-cost, high enduring raw material for its machinery and products. However, one of the gravest problems that get intentionally overlooked is the issue of its disposal. Owing to its synthetic chemical bonds, nature’s microorganisms cannot break it down easily, with plastic taking anywhere between 10-1000 years to decompose. Despite this, annually, about 1 trillion single-use plastic bags are used by the consumers. It amounts up to 2 million per minute. Geyer (2017) estimated that there are 8.3 Billion tonnes of plastic waste in the world, 79% of which are lying in landfills or the open.
With such statistics, one cannot turn a blind eye to the rampant damage that excessive plastic usage and disposal is doing to nature and other species. Almost about 94% of birds and endangered species have plastic in their digestive systems (Racusin and McArleton, 2012). Stray dogs, cows, and other animals eat the thrown away plastic bags from the garbage, causing serious health repercussions for them, and sometimes even death. Plastic also works as a magnet for other organic pollutants to attach themselves. They also clog water-sewage pipes, attracting mosquitoes and causing health hazards. The agricultural field is also impacted.
Given this seriousness of the problem, it is high time that we take lessons from some of the countries around the world to curb our plastic waste production. Here are some of the countries that have successfully banded or limited plastic use.
Countries that are doing plastic ban well
One of the first countries to have been checking and controlling their plastic usage, Denmark has levied a tax on plastic bags since 1993. Sale of plastic bags dramatically dropped down by 60% (Lober, 2018). It cost about 50 cents as of today.
Following a total plastic ban in 2015, France also announced a total plastic ban – which includes cutleries as well – in 2016. The idea was to set an example of a reduction in greenhouse gas emission. It seeks to achieve this ban by 2020 completely.
The case of Sweden is different from the rest of the world. It does not follow the ‘ban plastic’ rule, but rather gives up its plastic waste for recycling. Focusing on this aspect, it has one of the strongest recycling systems in the world, so much so that only 1% of the household waste had been left for the landfills. Recently, they have also been declared as garbage free and seeks to help other countries recycle their waste through their strong systems.
Ireland, in 2002, put a plastic bag tax, which made plastic bags unavailable to the customer, without purchase. Even for buying, the tax was so high that the sales of this plastic went down by 94%. Currently, plastic usage is frowned upon in the country.
China had sought to ban the usage of plastic, by implementing a ban in the 1990s. However, owing to people not following the ban, the effect was negligible. Again in 2008, before the Olympics, the country banned thinner plastic bags and levied a charge on the thicker plastic ones. The charges would be earned by the shopkeepers. Consequently, plastic usage stopped down by 50%.
Rwanda saw with its own Plastic Oceans campaign group, put a stringent ban against usage of plastic in 2008. It called for a jail term if caught using plastic, although a fine of $61 usually suffices. It seeks to become completely plastic-free by the year 2020. Considered as the strictest band, it also ensures that tourists from other countries leave the plastic bags at the airport itself.
Australia was the second largest consumers of plastic bags per year after the US, with a 5 billion plastic bag usage per year. However, four areas of Australia have implemented a ban on plastic bags at the state level, namely, South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory. Other territories will follow this year, with supermarkets seeking to wean off plastic use by 2018.
Out of all the bans, Kenya’s is the strictest. Since September 2017, Kenya has banned the production, sales, and usage of plastic, targeting mostly the manufacturers and the sellers. Anyone violating this law could be sentenced to 4 years in jail or may incur a fine of $40,000. They move towards the goal of being completely plastic-free by 2050.
Morocco was one of the largest consumers of a plastic bag, with its consumption per person being 900 bags per year. Its total usage amounted up to 3 billion bags, annually. With the crisis looming above, on 1st of July 2016, a ban was called on all forms of plastic bags in the country. Turned into law, it bans the production, transportation, import and sale of plastic bags.
In a revolutionary move, Zimbabwe, in July 2017, banned the usage of a kind of plastic called expanded polystyrene, used in food containers. These kinds of plastic take almost a million years to decompose, causing serious health hazards. Anyone in contravention of this band has levied a fee of $30-$50.
Read more about the history of plastic bags.
In comparison to the above countries, India is falling behind in the curtailing of plastic usage. In 2017, New Delhi had banned all single-use plastic, as it was found that the burning of this plastic contributed heavily to the air pollution; a health hazard that Delhi is critically engulfed in. Despite the grave consequences, the use of plastic has not reduced. India, alone, produces 56 Lakh tonnes of plastic waste per year, with 9,600 metric tonnes per day being produced by the National Capital. By 2030, Plastic dumps rising as high as 10 metres would need a landfill as big as about 90% of Bangalore’s area (Bhatia, 2017). India alone accounts for 60% of the plastic wastes being dumped into the oceans.
There is a major reason why plastic ban has not been successful in India. First, there are no stringent laws against plastic use in the country. Only one law is in place – banning the usage of thinner plastic bags. But owing to lack of implementation, it has majorly failed. Large vendors and supermarkets do charge their customers for plastic carry bags, but there seems to be no reduction in its usage. In the Delhi-NCR, the National Green Tribunal put a ban in place against plastic cutleries, plates, and other such items in January 2018, but its enforcement is neither monitored nor is its violations punished. Most roadside food trucks continue to use plastic for packaging and eating; shopkeepers hardly shy away from the usage of plastic bags.
Thus, given that there is little law to protect our mother earth, the responsibility for it lies on our shoulders. At an individual level, it is neither impossible nor even difficult to replace plastic bags with paper ones. The thicker plastics could be saved and reused. Other kinds of plastic wastes can be recycled at home into decorative products, flower tubs, key-chain holders, and toys and so on. With examples from the countries above, as well as ideas to recycle our plastic waste, it is imperative that we move towards a better, and safer future, hand-in-hand.