Plastic addiction and pollution
The world is addicted to it, and Mother Earth is suffering from massive pollution because of it. I am referring to mankind’s abusive use of plastic.
It is estimated that 400 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide every year, 8 million tons of which enter our oceans, while the rest contaminate our lands on a massive and irreversible scale.
In the case of single-use plastic bags alone, some 500 billion pieces are utilized by shoppers yearly. Although the average life span of a plastic bag is only 12 minutes, they will remain for up to 1,000 years in the landfills where they are dumped.
Every year, more than 100,000 marine mammals get entangled in and die because of plastic bags. A pregnant sperm whale washed up dead with nearly 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Another dead whale was found to have swallowed 88 pounds of plastic.
In a recent study, plastic particles were found in the feces of people, demonstrating the fact that plastic has entered the human food chain. “Microplastics have been found in tap water, bottled water, fish and mussel tissue, and even in beer,” said one scientist. While there are no definitive studies yet on whether plastic will lead to ill effects when ingested, the fact that a nonbiodegradable material is entering our bodies and potentially accumulating in our internal organs is alarming.
A growing number of countries are taking the threat of plastic pollution seriously. More than 32 countries have imposed bans on single-use plastic bags. Kenya has the strictest plastic bag ban, imposing jail time of four years or fines of up to $40,000 on those who break the law. Even a Somali terrorist group has banned single-use plastic bags in the areas it controls.
The Philippines is the world’s third biggest source of plastic waste that ends up in the sea. For an archipelago with a large population dependent for livelihood on marine resources, this is troubling.
There are initiatives to ban single-use plastic with bills filed in Congress. And several local governments have banned plastic bags, such as Makati, Quezon City, Pasig, Muntinlupa, Las Piñas, Pasay, El Nido, Los Baños, Bacolod and Baguio.
There was a ray of hope that a nationwide ban on single-use plastic would become a reality when President Duterte voiced out his inclination to certify as urgent pending congressional bills advocating the ban. But the push seems to have stalled; the President must follow through with definitive action on this.
We are all so addicted to single-use plastic because of the convenience it provides. A total ban should be preceded by a period to institute schemes that will allow manufacturers and consumers to transition smoothly.
Tax and other incentives can be given to manufacturers that will do the following: 1) install dispenser or refilling devices (like those used for soft drinks in fast-food chains) for every consumer product, and; 2) sell refillable and reusable containers. These devices and containers can be used for products like water, flavored drinks, sugar, coffee, grains, cooking condiments, foodstuff, soap, shampoo and cleaning chemicals. When consumers go to the market, they must bring reusable containers to be refilled.
Disincentives like heavy penalties and imprisonment should be imposed on producers who continue to use or sell single-use plastic. Consumers violating the ban will be made to watch a documentary on the ill effects of plastic for the first offense, fined for the second offense, and imprisoned for the third offense.
An intensive visual information campaign showing sea creatures dying of plastic, rivers and seas getting clogged with plastic, and our food chain tainted with plastic particles should be mounted, similar to how cigarette packs depict the ill effects of smoking.
Planet Earth has gone through five mass extinctions. We are on the verge of a sixth one because of the environmental degradation we cause. We are the only creatures that have ever acquired the power to cause mass extinction—humankind included—and we are also the only species with the power to prevent it from happening.
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