Today, the world marks World Environment Day. The focus this year is on beating plastic pollution. Pollution is a huge cause of disease and early deaths in the world today while plastic pollution is one of the most serious threats to the planet’s health which in turn affects human health and livelihoods.
Plastic is not all bad. It is important as it is used for packaging, building and construction, textiles, electrical and electronics and industrial machinery. Plastic is light, easy to make, easy to use making it very beneficial.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, humanity produces more than 430 million tonnes of plastic annually, two-thirds of which are short-lived products that soon become waste, filling land and ultimately the ocean and often, working their way into the human food chain. Plastics are the largest, most harmful and most persistent fraction of marine litter, accounting for at least 85 per cent of total marine waste.
The real challenge with plastic is the single-use-plastic. According to UNEP, around the world, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute while half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes, to be used only once and then thrown away. It may be water and beverage bottles, plastic cups, plastic plates, plastic straws or polythene bags. Single-use plastics are polluting many ecosystems from rainforests to the world’s deepest ocean trenches. This pollution chokes marine wildlife, damages soil and poisons groundwater, with adverse consequences on our health. When consumed by fish and livestock, plastic waste ends up in our food chain, causing illness.
Plastic pollution can alter habitats and natural processes, reducing ecosystems’ ability to adapt to climate change, directly affecting millions of people’s livelihoods, food production capabilities and social well-being.
The Constitution provides that every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment. The government did commendably well when it banned single-use plastic carrier bags in 2017. Later in 2020, it banned the use of single use plastics in protected areas such as national parks, beaches, forests and conservation areas. Visitors to these protected areas are not allowed to carry single use plastic items.
Kenya has a national waste management strategy which calls on the public and institutions to reduce, rethink, refuse, recycle, reuse, repair and refill waste.
Increase in population, change of consumption patterns especially in urban areas poses a huge challenge for waste management. Kenya should largely shift focus towards a circular economy, a model of production and consumption that emphasises sharing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products to extend their life cycle, thereby reducing waste. Further, there is need to promote eco-friendly alternatives to single use plastics while, as consumers, we should make eco-friendly choices in our everyday living. Organisations too should come up with eco-friendly measures such as having no plastic bottles in their premises. We must rise and choose our environment over plastic.
Ms Muathe is a communications specialist