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.
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.
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…