A Plastic Problem Or A Management Problem?

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The world today is more aggressive than ever in its push to go green. Embracing more environmentally friendly alternatives are proving to be financially fruitful for businesses as more consumers become environmentally conscious. The fight for a cleaner, greener future has drummed up support from governments across the globe and other international bodies.

In the last decade, the fight for pollution-free environments has taken the face of fighting against single-use plastics. A number of countries have taken radical measures to limit and eventually do away with single-use plastics and their resultant waste in the environment. A notable effort in the war against plastics comes from Kenya. In September 2017, the country passed into law a ban on single-use plastic bags. This ban is applicable to both retailers and manufacturers who use single-use plastic bags as a packaging solution. With the ban comes hefty fines to deter manufacturers, retailers and consumers alike form entertaining the thought of using plastic bags for packaging. The move to ban single-use plastics has been emulated in Malaysia with four of its states; Johor, Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Selangor; passed legislation banning single-use plastic bags and embracing reusable and biodegradable alternatives. The spirit of declaring full out war on plastics has been carried into Britain with the Chancellor of the exchequer Phillip Hammond vowing to take measures that will see Britain become a world leader in the fight against plastic waste.

There is definitely a lot of talk and excitement where making the environment cleaner and safe for both humans and wildlife (marine and terrestrial) is concerned. Phillip Hammond in his budget speech last November said that we could not realistically keep our promise to future generations of having a functioning and growing economy if there was no future for the environment. Even the UN is in on this excitement with the United Nations Environmental Director Juliette Biao vowing to support efforts that go toward ridding our environments of plastic waste.

Banning single-use plastic bags may offer a temporary solution to the plastic waste menace but does not completely eliminate the problem of plastic pollution and waste management. According to Sri Umeswaran, an environmental activist in Malaysia, governments and businesses alike need to be focusing their efforts on waste management rather than imposing bans on plastic products. He argues that by providing an environmentally friendly alternative to plastics, we are unknowingly encouraging a bigger disposal problem. The knowledge that something will eventually end up being assimilated into the earth will encourage more littering.

There is some truth in his claims. The problem of plastic waste is not only confined to single-use plastic bags. Plastic bottles and disposable cutlery are also culprits of the plastic pollution menace. Instead of discouraging their use, manufactures and consumers alike should borrow a leaf from countries like Japan and Germany that are notorious for their recycling efficiency. Simple solutions such as streamlining take back policies that force manufacturers to be responsible for their waste could go a long way to ridding our terrestrial and aquatic environments of plastic waste. Perhaps time has come for governments and international governing bodies worldwide to take a step back and reevaluate the root cause of the plastic waste menace and seek solutions to the problem and not treating the symptoms.