Thin plastics and the environment

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THE world is facing a plastic crisis, the status quo cannot be ignored. Plastic pollution is a
serious issue, which requires collective response involving all relevant actors at different
levels.
Out of the 8.3 billion tonnes of plastics produced since the 1950s, 79% ended in landfills or
dumped into the environment. From the Mariana trench to Mt. Everest, there is virtually no
place on Earth which is left untouched by plastic pollution.
Plastics, a derivative of petroleum, natural gas or similar substances are transformed into a
substance known as polymer resin, which is then shaped and formed into whatever object is
desired. However, as a petroleum by-product, plastic production presents a major source of
air and water pollution.
Huge volumes of plastics, especially plastic bags, end up in landfills. Besides the fact that
available landfill space is becoming increasingly scarce, plastic poses problems for landfills
because most plastic is not biodegradable, which means that it does not break down to its
simple component parts. It remains in landfills indefinitely, posing a threat to animals and
birds that frequently become entangled in plastic bags and plastic rings for soft drink cans,
either choking or breaking their wings.
A look at Zimbabwe

As of 2011, a study by the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Zimbabwe
revealed that Zimbabwe generates 1.65 million tonnes of waste, of which 18 percent is plastic
(297000t). As of 2010, plastics were responsible for the deaths of 5,000 animals annually –
including donkeys, cattle, sheep and goats. Decomposition of plastics takes up to 1,000 years.
Policy response
The promulgation of Statutory Instrument 98 of 2010 (Plastic Bottles and Plastic Packaging
Regulations) was a response to the plastic scourge. Section 3(1) prohibits the manufacture for
use within Zimbabwe, commercial distribution or importation of plastic packaging with a
wall thickness of less than thirty micrometres unless it is biodegradable plastic packaging.

A prohibitive approach to use of thin plastic bags was meant to drive people to adopt
environmentally friendly alternatives such as reusable bags. It may take humanity time to get
used to life without plastic bags, to be more conscious about recycling, and to develop and
embrace clean, effective, reusable alternatives, but it is a path in the right direction.
The banning of thin plastic bags could be a useful way to begin reducing waste pollution
because they are one of the products commonly disposed of in the environment; have a slow
rate of decomposition, and are very dangerous to aquatic life; sources of micro plastic
particles, which is vastly present in many marine areas; and are able to absorb high
concentrations of the toxic substances in water, which can in turn be absorbed by living
organisms.
The call to citizens is to make smart choices on plastic usage, or adopt bio-degradable
alternatives such as shopping bags, baskets, paper bags or cardboard boxes. Upholding our
right to live in a clean, safe and healthy environment comes with responsibility.

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