About 160,000 plastic bags are used globally every second! 5 trillion plastic bags are produced yearly. Side by side, they can encircle the world 7 times. Plastic bags are used in many countries across the world, albeit its use and circulation has grave consequences on the ecosystem.
Plastic bags tend to disrupt the environment in a serious way. They get into soil and slowly release toxic chemicals. They eventually break down into the soil, with the unfortunate result being that animals eat them and often choke and die. Do you know It takes 500–1000 years for 1 plastic bag to degrade in a landfill? Have you calculated how many you have used in the last 1 year?
Unfortunately these bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment, particularly aquatic life. It is not surprising to know that over 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually and according to Habib El-Habr,an expert on marine litter working with the U.N. Environment Programme in Kenya, “If this continues, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Concerns emanate as regards the origins of these bags. Plastic bags are used for containing and transporting goods such as foods, produce, powders, ice, magazines, chemicals, and waste. It is a common form of packaging. From a vegetable vendor to a designer store, from buying products from food stores or other businesses, everyone seems to use them. Even though they are one of the modern conveniences that we seem to be unable to do without, they are responsible for causing pollution, killing wildlife, and using up the precious resources of the Earth.
The effects of plastic bags on the environment are clearly devastating. While there are many objections to the banning of plastic bags based solely on their convenience, the damage to the environment needs to be controlled. In Nigeria particularly, the environmental challenge of plastic waste is an overlooked problem and if not resolved, will continue to have damaging impact on our environment and future generations. The use of plastic bags is a major contributor to this waste problem.
Some years ago, hopes were raised high for lovers of clean environment like me when the Minister of Environment, Nigeria, Hajiya Mailafia, shook the country’s business landscape after she announced government’s preparedness to ban the use of plastic bags, a commodity used in high rate across the nation. The pronouncement by the minister sent a shock wave across the country as the citizens started reacting to the decision.
But in the end, the ban on plastic bags was not implemented, unfortunately.
What Nigeria could not summon the political will to accomplish over the years, was achieved in Kenya 8 months ago after three attempts over 10 years. The nation passed what was likened to be the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect, with a pronouncement that Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000. In this light, the East African country successfully banned the manufacture and use of plastic packaging both at the industrial and domestic levels without suffocating the business community, joining about 30 countries which have either passed the law of plastic ban and implemented it or passed the law with the intention of implementing it.
Plastic bags have become almost a NATIONAL symbol of waste and decadence in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the reality is dawning on the effect of plastic waste on our aquatic life. While plastic bags are not the only cause of pollution in Nigeria, they are perhaps the most evident of our garbage, blocking drainage systems, clogging waterways, littering streets and sewage banks. The country has no proper disposal or recycling method for its plastic and non plastic waste. Lagos alone generates 9000 metric tons of waste daily; 86% of the waste generated consists of plastic bottles and bags. The lack of an efficient waste management system in the country accounts for why every waste finds its way into the river and the ocean.
Today, rivers in Nigeria are not producing enough fish hence the massive importation of fish and fish products. Fishermen and women in the Niger Delta have since put down tools and got themselves into anti-social activities in the absence of fishing which had been their primary source of livelihood. What seems like an alternative is being negated by beliefs. Nigerians have resorted to breeding cat fish, which most people are now rejecting for fear of chemical components, in the food mix.
According to Dr. Martins Akoede, a renowned marine biologist, “the invasion of the sea beds and continuous pollution of the ocean with plastic have made it impossible for fishes to safely lay eggs hence the comatose state of one of the most vibrant businesses in the area”. Owing to the grave consequences, Nigeria needs to urgently summon the political will, think through the process, engage in dialogue with the manufacturing sector. For citizens led actions, there should be a proper dumping system for these bags to get rid of them while the burning of plastic bags should also be strictly prohibited. To this end, Plastic bags should immediately be banned by the government. and this decision will be a major breakthrough in the global effort to turn the tide on plastic pollution.
HOW DOES PLASTIC BAGS POLLUTION AFFECT YOU AND I?
Why should you and I be concerned?
-It is a common practice that when we buy either food, clothes or drinks; they are being packed for us in a plastic bag. This plastic bag is eventually thrown in the litter outside our homes which creates heaps of garbage. It is scientifically proven that plastic bags take over 500 years to decompose. We have now resorted to burning these plastic bags which leads hundreds of chemicals mixing in the air and polluting it. This air when inhaled, ultimately leads to a number of diseases, especially respiratory.
-The meal eaten or heated in plastic bags causes certain cancers, ulcers, asthma and obesity to occur because certain chemicals of the plastic bags mix with the meal upon heating.
-They cause harm to our immune system
-They put negative effects on brain.
-They kill animals who eat them or become trapped in them and if this happens, we are left with nothing to consume.
-They pollute cities and coastal areas.
-Plastic waste also causes immeasurable damage to fragile ecosystems — both on land and at sea.
Therefore, it is recommended to avoid using plastic bags.
IF NOT PLASTIC BAGS , THEN WHAT ?
Biodegradable bags such as paper bags, fibre bags and cloth bags can be used in replacement for the plastic bags.
WAYS TO STOP PLASTIC BAG POLLUTION
While you wait for the government to plan and announce total ban on use of plastic bags, there are few things you can do before then as an individual.
1. Stop buying water.
Each year, close to 20 billion plastic bottles are tossed in the trash. Carry a reusable bottle in your bag and refill with clean tap water or refill from dispensers.
2. Purchase items secondhand.
New toys and electronic gadgets, come with all kinds of beautiful but alarming plastic packaging. Search the shelves of thrift stores, neighborhood garage sales, or online postings for items that are just as good when previously used. You’ll save yourself some cool cash too .
3. Bring your own bag to the dry cleaner.
Invest in a fabric bag and request that your cleaned items be returned in it instead of getting new plastic bags every time your clothes are being delivered .
4. Bring your own bags to the mall, supermarket 🛒
When you go to shop at marts, malls or stores, carry your plastic bag from home, reuse the one you were given before and don’t collect new bags.
5. Talk to manufacturers and your local community about it
Though we can make a difference through our personal habits, while that is amazing, it’s highly important to remember that corporations have a much bigger footprint. If you believe a company could be smarter about its packaging, make your voice heard. Write a letter, send a tweet, or hit them where it really hurts
6. Buy bags from eco conscious businesses
If you have a friend who has just started a small but eco friendly business, support by buying their eco friendly products. Doing this encourages more businesses to grow.
7. Talk about it to someone
Most people are not informed properly about the current threats of pollution. The use of social media is also a very good avenue to reach a large number of people. You will be amazed what one Facebook, Instagram, or twitter post can do to many people.
8. Join a clean up team
While we fight for the ban of plastic bags, there are still many oceans, communities, households and countries that are still polluted with plastic bags. Volunteer to clean up your communities, volunteer for organizations that do the clean up regularly.
Thank you for reading. Kindly drop your comments as I appreciate your feedback. Please check back soon for my new Environmental Series on “15 CURRENT GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES AND POSSIBLE WAYS TO SOLVE THEM”.
Temilade Salami is an Environmental Activist and Advocate, a Seasoned Poet and a Green Economy Policy Enthusiast. She uses Poetry as a tool for advocacy while leveraging on her writing skills to create awareness on key local and global environmental issues. She’s currently studying for a Bachelors Degree in Marine Biology at the University of Lagos. Contact her via Instagram at (@) temidpoet or via twitter (@) temidpoet_