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Let’s cut on plastic waste

If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste will be in l ‘andfills or the natural environment by 2050 hence the urgent need to rethink our addiction to plastic.

By WANJIRU KANG’ARA

Plastic is one of the most widely used ‘and cheapest materials in the world today.  Polyethylene terephthalateplastic is used in soft drinks, juices, water, beer, mouthwash, peanut butter, salad dressing, detergent ‘and cleaner containers. DEHP, which is an abbreviation for di(2- ethylhexyl) phthalate, is a chemical that is commonly added to plastics to make them flexible. DEHP is widely in PVC plastics such as footwear, building materials ‘and floor coverings.

Other types of plastics include high-density polyethylene (HDPE) which is used in opaque milk, water, juice bleach, detergent ‘and shampoo containers, garbage bags, yogurt ‘and margarine tubs ‘and cereal box liners.

Polyvinyl chloride (V or Vinyl or PVC) is used in toys, clear food ‘and non-food packaging (like cling wrap), some squeeze bottles, shampoo bottles, cooking oil ‘and peanut butter jars, detergent ‘and window cleaner bottles, shower curtains, medical tubing ‘and numerous construction products (like pipes, siding). PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is used in grocery store, dry cleaning, bread ‘and frozen food bags, most plastic wraps ‘and squeezable bottles like for honey ‘and mustard.Polypropylene (PP) is used in ketchup bottles, yogurt ‘and margarine tubs, medicine ‘and syrup bottles, straws, ‘and rubbermaid ‘and other opaque plastic containers, including baby bottles.  Polystyrene (PS) is used in styrofoam containers, egg cartons, disposable cups ‘and bowls, take-out food containers, plastic cutlery, ‘and compact disc cases.

Where does all this plastic go when we are done with it?

According to a report on the Science World web site, global production of plastics increased from two million metric tonnes in 1950 to over 400 million metric tonnes in 2015, outgrowing most other human-made materials. The researchers found that by 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastics, 6.3 billion tonnes of which had already become waste. Of that waste total, only nine percent was recycled; 12 percent was incinerated ‘and 79 percent accumulated in l ‘andfills or the natural environment.

If current trends continue, roughly 12 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste will be in l ‘andfills or the natural environment by 2050.

What happens to the plastic you throw away?

With a life span of over 500 years, it’s factual to say that every plastic bottle you have used exists somewhere on this planet, in one form or another.

According to the Plastic Oceans Organisation, the world is now producing nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says more than eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in oceans every year, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries ‘and tourism, ‘and cost at least USD8 billion in damage to marine ecosystems.

The National Oceanographic ‘and Atmospheric Administration says plastic debris kills an estimated 100,000 marine mammals annually, as well as millions of birds ‘and fishes. According to estimates, by 2050, oceans will have more plastic than fish if present trends are not arrested.

There are many reasons as to why plastic bags are harmful to the environment. First, they are not biodegradable. They last from 20 – 1,000 years. All plant, animal or natural mineral based substances will over time biodegrade. In its natural state, raw crude oil will biodegrade but man-made petrochemical compounds made from oil, such as plastic, will not. They “photo-degrade,” which means they turn into little toxic bits of themselves.

Secondly, plastics escape ‘and float easily in air ‘and water, travelling long distances ‘and end up in oceans or l ‘and used for farming. Thirdly, plastics cause blockage of sewerage ‘and water drainage infrastructure causing floods during the raining season.

Plastics endanger human health when used for packaging food in particular hot food. DEHP was banned in February 2015 from general use under EU law in what was seen by many as a positive move for health ‘and the environment. In Europe, DEHP, BBzP, ‘and other dangerous phthalates have been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999.

The ban on plastic bags, by the Government of Kenya in 2017 is a welcome move ‘and we can all be part of the solution by making a decision to say no to plastics.

Say no to plastic water ‘and juice bottles. Use stainless steel water bottle or buy a glass-bottled drink. Carry your own shopping bag. This way you can save between 400 ‘and 600 plastic bags per year. Stop chewing gum. Not only are you chewing on plastic, but you may also be chewing on toxic plastic.

WanjiruKang’ara is a communications professional with over ten years’ experience in communications research, strategy design ‘and implementation.  Email: wanjirukangara@hotmail.com

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