Plastics here Plastics there, Plastics everywhere!! We can do better
As I sip water from my plastic sachet, I can't help but wonder where the plastics will end up! Maybe it will end up on the gutter, clogging the water ways, littering our streets, or on our precious soil affecting the food chain, or back in my stomach - who knows?
Plastics pollute our oceans and bays, damage our drainage infrastructure and litter our neighbourhoods. They clog up our drainage systems and contribute to flooding.
We have also been told that if not properly stowed away, plastic causes harm to humans, animals and plants through toxic pollutants. Ouch and it can take hundreds or even thousands of years for plastic to break-down so the environmental damage is long-lasting.
"Plastics are very long-lived products that could potentially have service over decades, and yet our main use of these lightweight, inexpensive materials are as single-use items that will go to the garbage dump within a year, where they'll persist for centuries," says Richard Thompson, Lead Editor of the Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society.
It has been reported that plastic manufactured in the first ten years of this century eclipse the total amount produced in the entire last century. The world is producing and discarding about 360 million tons of plastics a year. Much of planet Earth is swimming in discarded plastic.
The Sierra Leone picture is no different. We see discarded plastic everywhere we go - on our streets, drainages, the beach, rivers and they are harming our fishes, animals and our health.
Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues in Sierra Leone, our Environmental Protection Agency tells us so. With such low recycling capacity, waste generated from the use of single-use plastics is putting our environment under so much pressure. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous.
In recent years, awareness of the environmental consequences of plastic pollution has become widespread and governments around the world are beginning to take action to restrict plastic production. More than 60 countries have crafted laws to restrict plastic production to protect the environment from pollution.
African countries, in particular, are leading the way when it comes to fighting plastic pollution. Tanzania for example is now described as a pioneer in the movement to combat plastic waste and promote the ban on single-use plastic. In 2016, the country announced that it would be unveil a total ban on plastic bags. The country worked with manufacturers to create sustainable alternatives and gave businesses a grace period to adapt to the measure. Anyone found with plastic bags face fines of up to $87 (£68) or up to seven days in jail. For anyone caught manufacturing or importing plastic bags, the fine could be $430,000 or up to two years in prison. Travellers arriving in Tanzania are now being asked to surrender plastic bags at the airport.
Other countries in Africa have also dealt with this problem by enacting varying levels of punishment to ensure businesses follow plastic bans. In Rwanda, for example, people found in violation of the plastic bag ban can be sent to prison. Kenya has also implemented its ban on plastic bags in favour of reusable polypropylene bags. In August 2017, the Kenyan announced up to four years' imprisonment or fines of up to $40,000 Kenyan shillings for anyone producing or selling plastic bags and up to 12 months in jail or fines up to $500 Kenyan Shillings for individuals found carrying a plastic bag. In fact, in 2018, "18 people who pleaded guilty in a court in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa were fined $300 Kenyan Shillings or sentenced to eight months in jail for using the bags," the BBC reported.
A year after the plastic bag ban took effect, "the Kenya government says 80 percent of the population has stopped using plastic carrier bags," according to the BBC. A reduction in litter makes for a cleaner environment which is another reason Kenya is one of the most popular travel destinations in Africa. Like Kenya, Rwanda has recently become one of the cleanest nations on the planet.
It is inevitable that soon Sierra Leone will join other countries to impose restrictions on single-use plastics. This will be a necessary measure to save our environment and protect our health. To prepare ourselves towards such a time, we need to open a public dialogue on the future of single-use plastics, and their disposal in Sierra Leone. This will require massive public education and awareness creation. We will need to talk about recycling and we will need to develop a new ethos in our disposal of single-use plastics. Companies that package their products in single-use plastic need to demonstrate greater commitment to responsible use and proper disposal.
Lonta ka da Bai! For love of Mama Salone
Yeama Sarah Thompson