Before it’s discovery in 1950, plastic was barely a part of our life. Plastic gained popularity because it is versatile and of course a cheaper alternative to many household and packaging products. And see, today, it has surpassed our basic needs and has become a threat to the environment to an extent that many countries are bound to impose a plastic ban.
Did you know that the first ever major plastic ban imposed was in 1975 on Coca-cola and Monsanto beverage bottles? The bottles were completely removed from the shelf by 1977. The containers contained toxic acrylonitrile, which was once a popular polymer for making food and beverage containers. Let’s have a look at remarkable plastic bans across the world and the factors that drove them.
In Kenya, if anyone found using, selling, or producing a plastic bag would be jailed for 4 years or will face 2-4 million shillings as fine. It is one of the harshest plastic ban ever. And this is not the first time the country tried to ban plastics. The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) of Kenya is a state agency that advises and enforces laws on environmental matters. According to NEMA, previous plastic bans were not successful because of restrictions on plastic bags only in terms of material and thickness. Much credit for the complete plastic bags ban in Kenya goes to James Wakibia. This photojournalist became an environmental activist after seeing the overflowing heaps of plastic waste at Giotto, Nakuru County, Kenya. He started a twitter campaign in 2015 using #banplasticsKE to call for a ban on plastic bags. This plastic bags ban is in effect since August 2017.
As a replacement for plastic bags, NEMA is encouraging innovative packaging schemes, which use sisal, water hyacinth, and papyrus reeds.
UK government has announced a 25 years plan in January 2018 to eliminate plastic waste and “set the global gold standard.” In 2015, UK introduced a tax on plastic bags, which resulted in 9 million fewer bags in circulation. The Prime Minister- Theresa May announced a ban on plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds this year. The present-day stats show more than 8.5 billion plastic straws are used in England every year. This uncontrolled use of single-use plastic certainly calls for an action.
“Single-use plastics are a scourge on our seas and lethal to our precious environment and wildlife, so it is vital we act now.” - Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom
This initiative also includes reducing the amount of microbeads plastic usage in manufacturing cosmetics and hygiene products. In support, the Queen of England has also banned the use of plastic straws and bottles in the Royal Estate since February 2018.
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is one the common materials used to make food containers. It is lightweight, rigid, and insulating material. But, only a few know it takes millions of years to decompose.
Zimbabwe announced a complete ban on expanded polystyrene in July 2017. Those violating the law will be charged $30-$500 as fine. Environmentalists believe that this ban will inspire similar plastic bans in the coming year.
Zimbabwe has a tradition of burning trash to get rid of it. Expanded polystyrene not only takes a million years to decompose but also releases toxic chemicals on burning. Also, this material is littered across streets, which clogs the drain pipes. This increases the likelihood of flooding. It is even harmful if an animal consumes it accidentally. Although the food vendors are unhappy with this ban, the EPS ban in Zimbabwe is the need of time. The government is promoting biodegradable materials like sugarcane, corn, starch, etc to use innovatively in place of polystyrene.
How did we really start using disposable straws? According to Mr. Lee Ying-yuan, Taiwanese Politician- We can use steel products, edible straws, or maybe we just don’t need to use straws. There is no inconvenience at all. Taiwan is determined to phase out single-use plastic by 2030. This plastic ban in Taiwan is set to execute in phases. The first part of the regulation bans straws in dining outlets by 2020. The law also enforces charges on retail stores for providing free plastic bags, disposable food containers, and utensils. Taiwan is looking forward to a blanket ban on single-use bags, utensils, straws, and containers by 2030.You can read more information about this ban at the Hong Kong Free Press journal.
Australians use about 5 billion plastic bags every year making Australia one of the largest plastic waste producers in the world. This waste contributes greatly to the ocean's plastic. In order to reduce plastic waste, Australia has imposed statewide bans on single-use plastic bags. The regions participating in this ban include South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory, and Queensland. Since the ban, South Australia alone uses about 400 million plastic bags less annually. Following the lead, major supermarket chains of Australia- Woolworths, and Coles have announced to phase-out single-use plastic bags from their stores by 2018. Surprisingly, Woolworths and Coles alone give away about 3.2 billion plastic bags every year. Eliminating plastic bags from supermarkets supply chain is worth appreciation, but is not a complete solution. Still, retailers use plastic bags out of convenience.
In June 2016, the Canadian Government officially listed plastic micro beads as toxic and in January 2018 imposed a complete ban on manufacturing and importing them.
Plastic microbeads are small solid plastic particles less than 1 millimeter in dimensions. These are commonly made of polyethylene and sometimes from petrochemicals plastic like polypropylene and polystyrene.
Image Courtesy: www.ottawariverkeeper.ca[/caption]Because of their size, microbeads easily pass through the drainage filters and reach rivers and oceans. A variety of aquatic wildlife mistake these microbeads as their food source and consume. This plastic chain ingestion is poisonous and a potential threat to the species higher in the food chain. Researchers have found 1.1 million microbeads per square kilometer in Lake Ontario. In January 2018, Canada imposed a total ban on toiletries that contain microbeads.
In 2015, under the Energy Transition for Green Growth Act, France banned plastic bags completely. In 2016, France announced a complete ban on plastic cups, plates, and cutlery effective from 2020.
People throw away about 4.3 billion plastic cups every year in France. Out of these hardly 1% of plastic cups are recycled. Similar figures apply to other disposable plastic items.To keep a check on the consequences of increasing single-use plastic waste; France allows disposable cups made of at least 50% biodegradable material.
In March 2018, Maharashtra government banned selected plastic materials like disposable cups, plates, and polythene bags of thickness less than 50 microns. (Details)India is also set to impose a ban on plastic microbeads by 2020.But, is this sufficient? What we learn from worldwide plastic ban experiences is a selective ban is not a thorough solution. The plastic ban in India should not be region-wise, it should be nationwide. If we really want to give up on plastic, then charging for plastic carry-bags at retail shops won't suffice. A study states that to balance between plastic production and environmental healing, one needs to use each reusable plastic bags at least 50 times, starting today. Therefore instead of producing more we should promote reusing and recycling existing plastics. For the increasing packaging demand, promoting sustainably sourced biodegradable materials can help.
Do you have any suggestions as to what can India do for a successful plastic ban? Let us know in the comments section below.