Putting Plastic In the Past

Did you know that every piece of plastic that has ever been manufactured still exists today in some form or another? The endurance range of plastic is estimated to be between 450 years to forever! Plastic does break down into smaller parts, but the point to note here is- visible or invisible, every piece of plastic manufactured still exists in our environment. This means that if nothing was to move it from its position, that water bottle you saw on the roadside today, would still be lying there when your great grandkids great grandkids have great grandkids!!

Plastic trash that can be found on the beaches and roadsides.

Chances are, that someone or something will move the bottle from that position. So what are the odds on where is it likely to end up?

  • There’s a 9% chance that it would be recycled
  • A 12% chance that it will be incinerated
  • And a 79% chance it will end up in a landfill or in the ocean

Now a 79% chance of something happening is amazing if you’re going to win the lottery or if your crush is going to tell you they like you too! But a 79% chance of a plastic bottle landing in the environment is HORRIBLE! Why? Because any effect it has is long term, therefore your great grandkids great grandkids great grandkids will still be dealing with the effects of the plastic you use today.

Our immediate view when we think of plastic pollution is how ghastly it looks when it’s lying around, but that’s not the worst of it! Due to our poor plastic waste management we are today:

  • Absorbing plastic through our water, through our food, through the air
  • Disrupting entire ecosystems leading more and more plants and animals to be endangered or extinct

So whose responsibility is it to manage the situation? The answer is EVERYONE’S.

We are living in a false narrative. The average person is led to believe that recycling is the sole solution, therefore, laying the responsibility on the end consumer and deferring it from the manufacturer.

Recycling is a solution yes, but did you know that not all plastic is recyclable? It is also a common perception that plastic can be recycled many times over. Not true.

A worldwide systemic change is needed on the manufacture and use of plastic, starting from policy changes to global behavioural shifts. However, even as overwhelming as the problem looks, every individual’s choices make a difference.

Students in Kwale County helping to keep Diani Beach clean, here they categorising trash collected.

Here are 10 things you can do today to reduce your plastic footprint:

  1. Shift from plastic bags to biodegradable bags
  2. Use a metal water bottle
  3. Choose products with less plastic packaging
  4. Shift from plastic straws to metal straws
  5. Buy in bulk instead of several single serving or travel size items
  6. Carry a travel mug for all your caffeine needs
  7. Say no to plastic cutlery
  8. Switch from cling wrap to foil or reusable beeswax paper
  9. Use loose-leaf tea instead of teabags
  10. Say no to glitter!

If there’s one thing COVID-19 has shown us is that conservation is an attainable goal! Just two months of reduced human activity has let our planet take a few breaths in peace.

Power is in numbers and if enough of us act today and act consistently, we can live on a better Earth.

Harveen Bansal is based in Nairobi and volunteers for the Conservation Education Society. Recently transitioning from the corporate world to marine conservation, Harveen is passionate about protecting our oceans.

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