The hustle and bustle around World Environment Day in India usually settles down quickly after a few of newspaper and television advertisements and a few speeches by our ministers. But this year, on the wake of the World Environment Day, the Tamil Nadu government took the biggest step towards the elimination of plastic in the state by banning the manufacture of plastic and use of single-use plastics like water bottles, bags, cups, straw from January 1, 2019. Corporates like ONGC pledged to make its offices plastic free by 2020, whereas Hindustan Unilever promised to make their plastic packaging reusable by 2025.
The Golden Temple of Amritsar, that receives over one lakh devotees per day, has also introduced eco-friendly compostable carry bags, which decomposes in 180 days, to take away the ‘karah parshad’. But, India needs to go further to curb the menace of plastic pollution that the country is reeling under. In 2018, even the UNESCO theme is “Beat Plastic Pollution” – which is a call for action by them to fight against plastic pollution.
But there are developed and developing countries that went far ahead of India in beating plastic pollution and banning the manufacture and import of plastic bags. Which countries are these? Kenya, China and France!
Kenya tried to impose a ban on manufacturing and import of plastic bags in 2007 and again in 2011 as a measure to protect the environment. But the imposition of the ban failed after manufacturers and retail outlets threatened to pass on the cost of using other materials to consumers.
But on 28 August 2017, again, the cabinet secretary of Environment and Natural resources, Prof Judy Wakhungu imposed the world’s toughest ban on the use, manufacture and importation of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging. As per the laws, violation of the ban would land anyone involved in the creation or import of plastic bags in jail, for four or more years or will be forced to pay a fine between $19,000 and $38,000.
As The Guardian reported on April this year, that the eight-month ban is already clearing up the ever-clogged waterways of Kenya, and the food chain is getting less contaminated with plastic. The success story has been so inspiring, that other developing African nations like Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are now considering to follow suit.
Similarly, Ministry of Environmental Protection of China, on July 2017 announced that they would not take anymore waste imports from other countries, be it mixed paper, plastics and vanadium slag (an alloy used for making high-speed aircraft) to recycle them. On March of this year, China had set a contamination limit of 0.5 percent on all other waste imports, crossing which they will not be importing the waste, let alone recycling it. This restrictive limit effectively complemented the original ban.
For a few decades now, China has been the biggest importer of recyclable waste materials in the world. Waste materials from developed countries like the US, UK, Canada, and Japan were sent there to be recycled. The entire process of waste recycling has led to serious deterioration of air quality, polluted water, contaminated rivers and of course, public health crisis. In short, China got tired of the world dumping waste on its shoulder.
While only time can say how the ban has featured for China, in the past, however, China tried banning ultra-thin plastic almost a decade back. However, poor implementation led to a very limited success of the ban.
While this decision has led to building up of waste in the developed countries, and many recyclable wastes are also ending up in landfills and incinerators; this also has the potential to make the developed countries take drastic and progressive measures for better waste disposal and management.
In 2016, France became the first country in the world to impose a ban on anything plastic. They also passed a law to make all disposable cutleries from biologically sourced material.
While many across the planet applauded this move, the country still faced a backlash from the industry, where many claimed that it violates EU law on the free movement of goods. However, they are planning to be a global leader in environmental reform, by planning to cut landfill waste in half by 2025 and reduce greenhouse emissions 40% by 2030.
Apart from them, Zimbabwe also announced a ban on July 2017, on polystyrene, a material used for making food containers that take approximately a million years to decompose. Those caught violating the ban even have to pay a fine of between $30 and $500. Taiwan has also banned the free distribution of lightweight plastic bags, which led many stores to replace plastic with recycled paper boxes. Several well-off North American cities like Montreal, New York, Malibu, Seattle have also enacted a ban on anything plastic.