Amongst many of the disastrous human concoctions, borne from shortsighted manipulation of nature, plastic articles (to facilitate more consumption) rank high on the list. Plastics are essentially by-products of fossil fuel. Plastics do not exist in nature. Adjoining other chemicals to fossil fuel compounds, in modern industrial processes, is what creates plastics. Plastics are slow to decompose and are not biodegradable. That means, they do not degrade to become part of the natural milieu. Most plastics can be pulverized to a microscopic size, but they hardly change their actual chemical composition. These make them dangerous to life and life support systems. Today plastic products in the form of micro-plastics are found in the bodies of land as well as sea based life of all sorts! See the article on page 26.
Nowadays, domesticated and wild animals routinely die as a result of ingested plastic articles. It is routine to see sea creatures get entangled with all sorts of plastic litter. Even the giant creatures-the corals are not spared from plastic pollution. Plastic bags, bottles, straws, etc. are amongst the most used articles in our consumption-oriented world system. These products regularly block waterways, sewage systems, etc. and have been known to cause flooding in many countries; India, Bangladesh, etc. Given the massive harm these products inflict on our environment, it is imperative that humanity deals with this catastrophe in a decisive manner. For instance, plastic bags can be outlawed without much difficulty. A number of countries have done so and the resultant dislocation, economic or otherwise, has been manageable. In this regard, the case of Kenya is instructive and is something most countries, including Ethiopia, can easily replicate. See the article next column.
The diversity of ocean life is decreasing at an alarming rate and dead zones (without life) continue to expand. Besides oceanic acidification, due to chemically polluted run off water from land (chemical fertilizers, etc.), plastic is another major cause of ocean pollution. Plastic garbage has been forming ‘trash islands’ (some as big as the size of Texas) in all the oceans of the planet. Even the icy continents of the Arctic and Antarctic are not spared. These continents contain plenty of micro-plastics within their ice and snow! Here is a recommendation from Oceanic Society: ‘Avoid Microbeads.
Tiny plastic particles, called microbeads, have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for ‘polythelene’ and ‘polypropylene’ on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products (find a list of products containing microbeads here)’.
Many countries have started to implement legislations to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics. If truth be told, ‘use and throw’ is outmoded, a model of a bygone era. Today reducing consumption, recycling, banning, clean- up, etc., have become vital necessities. As we have seen elsewhere, plastic bags can go out anytime, while flasks of durable quality can replace plastic bottles, though they might not be as convenient. We should recognize that life is always a trade off and there is nothing we can do about it. In this case punitive taxation might be appropriate to drastically reduce/discourage the use of plastic bottles. Human societies must be consciously operated. Blindly succumbing to the logic of the market without scrutinizing consequences will only lead to disasters. We admit, the global economic system or what we regularly call the global greed system is at the heart of such destructive pursuits and might not want to relent easily, but the fight has to go on, until sanity prevails! In fact, the system has been adamant to accept the most obvious scientific facts about the damages to the planet by the continuous use of plastic products as well as other major pollutants.
Ethiopia should embark on all major initiatives that are trying to save the planet from excessive abuse. Succumbing to the relentless and temporal logic of the market is not healthy to life on this precarious planet. Unfortunately and like many of our considered opinions, a strategy of systemically curtailing the use of plastic products, as well as unnecessary frivolous consumption, was not heeded. The ‘Pachamama Alliance’ advise: “Look squarely at the state of the world-where we are and how we got here-and then explore what role you can play in bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on this planet.” Good Day!