Society / Environment
Saturday, 25 Mar 2017 19:52 EAT
The minister in charge of the environment has suddenly issued a gazette notice banning plastic bags. To most people this is a positive move. There is need to stop the environmental pollution brought about by dumping of plastic waste everywhere. Plastic litter is an eyesore. Some are washed downstream where they end up clogging and blocking pipes and rivers. Plastics washed into lakes and oceans are a big threat to marine live.
Other than being a physical nuisance plastics are said to be causes of some diseases. To that end there is need for the government to take measures that will reduce this environmental pollution caused by plastics. However, that being said, I don't support this sudden ban on three grounds:
First, it is like this decision was taken half-heartedly. Why ban only plastic bags and not plastic bottles and plastic packaging and casing materials which are even a bigger menace?
Second, this is not the first time such a hasty decision is being taken. In June 2007, the government imposed a ban on plastics but this soon proved impractical and unsustainable because there were no viable alternatives for consumers. My fear is that this ban will also fail for the same reasons. Plastics packaging touches virtual all the facets of Kenyan life. From medicine to water to milk to soft drinks to household shopping, we pack or bottle everything in plastics.
The ciondos have disappeared because of lack of use. Paper bags, which are not easily available, are several times more expensive than plastic bags. Therefore it will be very difficult for Kenyans to do away with plastics within the few months remaining before the ban is imposed. More so when this ban does not seem to offer any alternative.
Third, this decision is out of sync with what is happening as far as plastic waste is concerned. Most developing countries have come to regard plastic waste as a source of raw materials from where they manufacture important building materials. They use plastic waste to produce synthetic wood, sheets and poles.
Synthetic wood is made entirely from polystrene waste packages, CD cases and plastic coat hangers. Synthetic wood is made to look like wood in every other way; same density and weight as some hardwood and coloured to look like various types of wood. It is used in building construction and in making furniture.
Synthetic wood is much more durable than wood. Likewise poles are made from similar plastic wastes. The synthetic poles have many advantages over wooden and concrete posts. They are more durable, do not corrode and are easy to maintain. Because they are light, it is possible to make long poles, the kind that are used in carrying electricity lines.
Recycling plastic waste by converting it into synthetic wood and poles, other than it permanently withdrawing this pollutant from the environment, has the advantage of reducing the tendency to cut down trees and hence sustainably conserve our forest resources. This is why I think Kenya should have recycling as the best method of solving this menace the plastics are becoming. We are lucky that we have a number of firms that produce poles from recycled plastics, albeit on a small scale. It is unfortunate the government is not doing much to improve their capacities.
If the government genuinely wants to solve the plastic problem, then encouraging investment in recycling plastics should be the starting point. Let the government enact a law that will compel all firms involved in manufacturing plastics or importing plastics to set up recycling factories for this waste. Let these firms find a way of having all plastic waste out there collected and recycled.
The writer is a Chemistry lecturer at the Kabete National Polytechnic