Thoughts on plastic

Just this week we have again picked up our habit of tak­ing a shop­ping bag instead of leav­ing every shop with a fresh plas­tic car­ri­er bag. In a strange way, this issue seems to be less impor­tant here than it is in Europe. Of course, once you think about it, that does not make sense. Africa also expe­ri­ences a grow­ing con­sumer sec­tor that puts pres­sure on the envi­ron­ment. And the land­fills form a seri­ous health risk for the peo­ple that have no choice but to live prac­ti­cal­ly in the garbage. On a glob­al scale, plas­tic waste is a prob­lem because it hard­ly breaks down and poi­sons the oceans.

One way to han­dle this, is tak­ing extreme mea­sures. I found an inter­est­ing arti­cle on Rwan­da, which is the only coun­try where plas­tic car­ri­er bags are banned, and where this rule is actu­al­ly imple­ment­ed. In our more hor­i­zon­tal soci­ety, an alter­na­tive option is the rise of the ‘plas­ti­car­i­an’, some­one who does not use plas­tic. There also exists a book about this: Plas­tic Free — How I Kicked the Plas­tic Habit and How You Can Too.

Vuilnis

Garbage at the com­pound in Nairo­bi

Per­son­al­ly, I don’t think that I need to com­plete­ly ban plas­tic from my life. What is impor­tant is to allow it to do what it was made for: long time use. Plas­tic is prac­ti­cal­ly inde­struc­tible and plas­tic items can have a long life. Here in town I saw a worn out plas­tic chair that was miss­ing a front leg. The undaunt­ed long term user sim­ply puts a pile of stones under it to replace the leg, and hap­pi­ly keeps sit­ting on it.

On the oth­er hand, what is the val­ue of using a chair for 50 years, until it final­ly real­ly falls apart? On a land­fill it takes hun­dreds of years to decom­pose, and in the ocean it will always stay in the water as tox­ic chem­i­cals. The impor­tant thing is to recy­cle plas­tic waste.

Plastic

Plas­tic in the house

It does make me reflect on all the plas­tic that we use in the house. We now have a small plas­tic tank with 19 litres of drink­ing water, with a deposit of about 10 euro — which is already bet­ter than the deposit-free 1.5 litre bot­tles we used to have. In the pic­ture you also see pack­ag­ing, basins, chairs (with socks because of the thin car­pet), toi­let seat, elec­tron­ics. I hope that most of this will be used for a long time. The moment to be wor­ried about is when it becomes waste, because they do not col­lect that sep­a­rate­ly here.

In the end I am most­ly opti­mistic. I know from expe­ri­ence that the Nether­lands and the UK are work­ing hard to col­lect and recy­cle plas­tic waste. And there is a grow­ing mar­ket of biodegrad­able plas­tics. The chal­lenge for African coun­tries is to get recy­cling sys­tems work­ing and raise aware­ness on the issue. In the mean­time, we glad­ly accept the strange looks when once again we inter­vene dur­ing the pack­ing of our shop­pings…