20 February 2013

Liberia: Nuisance of Plastic Bags Demands Solution

When a consumer demands that purchased items be placed in a plastic bag for easier holding and carrying, polythene or plastic bags pose no nuisance at that moment.

And this is exactly what most consumers demand here these days after purchasing commodities that have no large surfaces. Plastic bags have taken the place of wrapper papers that sellers and storekeepers used during the old days (before the advent of plastic bags) to neatly wrap bought items for customers before they exited business premises. The notion for that, understandably, was twofold: dignifying the sold item and notifying the public that the commodity was indeed bought and not stolen from the business center. This kind of wrapper paper, placed under our tropical conditions of rain or shine soon disintegrated via decomposition or combustion with minimal negative effect on humans and the environment.

But plastic bags, though preferred by consumers as easier carriers of items and commodities, pose a huge challenge and nuisance for the environment in countries like Liberia that are not yet engaged in recycling activities to turn these plastic materials into use and reuse.

Thanks to thousands of women under the auspices of the Monrovia City Corporation's sanitation department who toil daily sweeping, I mean literally sweeping, hundreds of thousands of discarded cold water plastic bags strewn anywhere and everywhere in Monrovia and its environs by consumers after quenching their thirst.

Aside from sweeping in central Monrovia, these women are seen trying to keep the environment tidy in many communities including New Kru Town, Logan town, Bushrod Island, Clara Town, Sinkor, ELWA junction, Red Light and along the Somali Drive. But more discarded plastic bags and other solid waste reappear where they rut their brooms day after day. Can't we inculcate the culture of being spic and span by depositing our solid waste only at designated collection points? Liberians need to do better by keeping their environment clean.

That not happening now creates much worry for our environment. Plastic bags carelessly strewn into concrete drains of roads already constructed in suburban Monrovia are causing a huge environmental problem. As coming events cast their shadows, more environmental nuisance can be predicted after completion of all roads in suburban Monrovia having concrete drains. When the drains are left open, they will be filled with filthy solid waste; when covered, they risk being clogged to cause spillover in the streets.

In an effort to curb environmental damage, Kenya and Uganda, like Liberia that has no recycling facilities, have banned the use of thin plastic bags.

Ugandan Finance Minister Ezra Suruma banned the importation and use of the thinnest bags and imposed a 120% tax on thicker ones in his new budget, while his Kenyan counterpart imposed similar restrictions in his budget, following the footsteps of Rwanda and Tanzania. Rwanda banned the importation and use of plastics less than 100 microns thick.

Officials of these East African countries complain that discarded plastic bags are littering roadsides in residential areas and blocking drains in cities.

Tanzania set the pace for the East African Community in 2006, when Vice-President Ali Mohamed Shein announced a total ban on plastic bags and ordered a switch to recyclable materials or biodegradable alternatives.

He said the measures aimed at encouraging players in the industry to devise environmentally friendlier and hopefully recyclable bags.

Mr. Suruma said Uganda imposed the because of "serious environmental concerns and difficulties in the disposal of plastic bags and plastic containers."

Meanwhile, Mauritania banned the use of plastic bags to protect the environment and the lives of animals and fish, blaming more than 70% of cattle and sheep deaths in Nouakchott on eating plastic bags.

Plastic makes up a quarter of 56,000 tonnes of waste produced annually in Nouakchott, where plastic bag manufacturers could be jailed for up to a year, according to a new law.

Environment Minister Amedi Camara said nearly all of the plastic package waste is not "collected and is found in the natural environment--land and sea--where they are sometimes ingested by marine species and livestock, causing their death".

We support these African countries for their firm stance against the menace posed by discarded plastic bags, and urge environmental authorities and the Liberian government to contemplate similar measures to protect our environment. Journalists are encouraged to begin the necessary sensitization campaign to save our environment.

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