The dangers of plastics to environment
By Jackson Bambo | June 5th 2018
NAIROBI, KENYA: Environmentally, plastic is a growing disaster. Most plastics are made from petroleum or natural gas, non-renewable resources extracted and processed using energy-intensive techniques that destroy fragile ecosystems.
The manufacture of plastic, as well as its destruction by incineration, pollutes air, land and water and exposes workers to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens.
Plastic packaging – especially the ubiquitous plastic bag – is a significant source of landfill waste and is regularly eaten by numerous marine and land animals, to fatal consequences. Synthetic plastic does not biodegrade. It just sits and accumulates in landfills or pollutes the environment. Plastics have become a municipal waste nightmare, prompting local governments all over the world to implement plastic bag, and increasingly polystyrene (styrofoam), bans.
“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment Day 2018, is a call to action for all of us to come together to combat one of the great environmental challenges of our time. A healthy environment is essential for a prosperous and peaceful future. We all have a role to play in protecting our environment-the only home, but it can be difficult to know what to do or where to start. That is why this year's World Environment Day has just one request: beat plastic pollution. If you cannot reuse it, refuse it.
While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become over reliant on single-use or disposable plastic – with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Every year we use up to 5 trillion disposable plastic bags. In total, 50 per cent of the plastic we use is single use.
Because of this, it will be wise for Kenyans to make bold steps and consider ways on how we can make changes in everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution on natural places, forests, wildlife and in our own health.
Nearly one third of the plastic packaging we use escapes collection systems, which means that it ends up clogging our city streets, sewage systems and polluting our natural environment. Every year, up to 13 million tons of plastic leak into our oceans, where it smothers coral reefs and threatens vulnerable marine wildlife. The plastic that ends up in the oceans can circle the Earth four times in a single year, and it can persist for up to 1,000 years before it fully disintegrates.
Plastic also makes its way into our water supply and thus into our bodies. What harm does that cause? Scientists still are not sure, but plastics contain a number of chemicals, many of which are toxic or disrupt hormones. Plastics can also serve as a magnet for other pollutants, including dioxins, metals and pesticides.
If you cannot reuse it, refuse it
This year’s World Environment Day provides an opportunity for each of us to embrace the many ways that we can help to combat plastic pollution around the world. And you don’t have to wait until 5 June to act.
There are so many things that we can do – from asking the “mama mboga” and restaurants you frequent to stop using plastic bags, to bringing your own coffee mug to work.
Here are some other specific ideas:
- Bring or reuse your own shopping bags
- Get alternative shopping bags
- Pressure food suppliers to use non-plastic packaging
- Refuse plastic cutlery
- Pick up any plastic you see the next time you go for a walk on the beach and by the road side
Mr Bambo is The coordinator Kenya Forests Working Group
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