What communities can do to get rid of plastic menace

Plastic, and especially single-use plastic, is increasingly becoming a global environmental threat.

Our waterways are filled with plastic waste and animals’ stomach are full of it. It is frustrating to see our rivers, oceans and communities filled with single-use plastic waste.

And what we see floating on our waterways and washing up our beaches is just a tip of the iceberg. Most of this plastic waste ends up on the seabed.

Once the plastic waste enters the seabed, it makes it impossible to clean up. While in the ocean, larger pieces of plastics break apart into smaller fragments. These fragments are consumed by sea animals.

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Consumers’ efforts to reduce their plastic footprint is important, but more often, plastic straws, bags, bottles, and packaging materials are pushed onto buyers who are overwhelmed and hard-pressed to find alternatives that put a stop to single use plastics penetrating the market .

We operate in a broken system. There is a growing call and concern for action against this monstrous problem.

So far, the main contributors to the plastic menace have no meaningful strategies to contribute to slaying this plastic monster.

Every single corporate commitment made by the main plastic polluters allows the continuous use of single-use plastic packaging.

Collection systems

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The solutions being explored are mainly on recycling, which is not sufficient to address the plastics pollution crisis. Fast moving goods industry such as Coca Cola, Nestle and Unilever, need to increase their ambitions. We have no time to procrastinate.

Research shows that since the 1950s, only 9 percent of all the plastics produced has been recycled.

The World Economic Forum estimates that globally, 32 percent of plastic packaging escapes the collection systems.

It’s time to face reality. We urgently need to stop the production of single-use plastics.

This should start with the main contributors to the plastic pollution crisis who must take responsibility for this problem and re-evaluate their dependency on single-use plastics packaging. Corporates and businesses must move beyond pledges on improving recycling and commit to massive phasing out on their single-use plastic usage.

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This means an end to the business model which relies on disposable products and one way packaging, and the start of a new paradigm that will allow the co-creation of alternative delivery systems that encourages re-using and refilling.

While there may not be a one size fits all approach, all businesses and corporations must begin to examine their business model that is centred on disposal, with single-use plastic packaging as the main product delivery system for their customers.

They should start to reimagine a model where disposable plastics are eliminated.

Eliminating unnecessary and problematic products and packaging such as plastic straws and single use carrier bags, investing more in reusable and refillable systems would form a lasting solution to the plastic challenge we face today.

There are many alternative product delivery models that can eliminate the use of single-use plastics.

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For instance, shortening products supply chains by sourcing and distributing more locally, reduces the need for packaging allowing more innovative product delivery options that not only foster reduced waste production, but also promote community connectedness.

Models such as supermarkets having milk ATMs for refilling milk rather than packaging it in plastic bottles is another good example.

Societies and communities are getting concerned about the plastic pollution monster.

Shopping differently

And consumers need to be provided with a chance to choose to go plastic-free. Initiatives such as having plastic-free aisles in supermarkets will give consumers a chance to choose an alternative approach to shopping.

In Kenya, the phase out of unnecessary and problematic single-use plastics has already been set in motion by the authorities through the ban on single-use plastic carrier bags.

There is need to expand and build on this momentum to transition to a plastic free future. The ban should extend to all single-use plastic materials such as single use plastic bottles, sachets and straws.

Eliminating plastic use will create a real change of securing a future that is healthier for our families, our communities and the species that call this planet home.

Mr Wemanya is a Greenpeace Africa Campaigner

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PlasticEnvironment ThreatwaterwaysWorld Economic Forum