By Sifelani Tsiko
Today is World Environment Day and this year’s theme reminds us of the grim reality of the burden of plastic pollution not only here in Zimbabwe, but the world over.
The need for the country to step up its campaign to combat plastic pollution is now more urgent than ever before. The bulk of our litter in this country is plastic. Globally, plastic pollution is now one of the biggest environmental concerns facing us today, with plastic accounting for 10 percent of all of our waste. Our drains, water bodies, streets, highways, buildings and every open space are clogged with plastics.
The country’s major supply dams and rivers are full of plastic, which is seriously threatening the country’s biodiversity. Not only is plastic pollution threatening our biodiversity, but humans as well in terms of air and water pollution. Production cost for our water has also risen due to the need to clear plastic waste.
Zimbabweans from all walks of life need to embrace everyday ways in which they can stop plastic pollution in their own communities.
The “Manje Hameno” attitude will not take us anywhere. Stories abound of people throwing plastic litter anywhere and saying its none of their business. “Tikasarasa ko ve council vanozoita basa rei,” many people say.
This attitude is killing our environment. Kombi crews recklessly dispose tickets through windows, leaving everything to council cleaners. On the streets, people throw litter everywhere even if the bins are there. There is no sense of a shared responsibility to keep our environment clean.
As a country, we need to take further action to ban plastic bags and packaging if we are serious about addressing the environmental and public health risks that go with plastic products.
Much of our single-use plastic litter is non-biodegradable plastics and environmentalists say it can be present in our soils for up to a thousand years or more.
As humans, we are paying a heavy price for plastic pollution. The bulk of it escapes collection systems and ends up clogging the drains and polluting environment. Flooding is now a major problem as a result. Plastic pollution is now seen as a major driver of respiratory and other non-communicable diseases.
Our streams, rivers and oceans are under severe attack from plastic, which is killing marine biodiversity and even our wildlife.
In Zimbabwe, there are numerous reports of animals that have died after consuming plastic. It is, therefore, important to understand the long-term implications of plastic pollution, not only in terms of its effect on marine and wildlife resources, but on major areas such as tourism and human health.
Keeping this in view, as a country we need to come out with a battery of implementable measures to tackle this menacing plastic pollution.
For instance, through an aggressive “Beat Plastic Pollution” campaign, Zimbabwe needs to invest more in plastic crushers to promote plastic recycling as a sustainable practice as well as a strategy to manage waste.
Crushed plastic bottles can be used for recycling in the manufacturing of items such as raw material for clothing, carpets and grocery bags. In some countries such as India, crushed plastic is now being used to mend potholes on roads. Experts there say using plastic for constructing roads is cost effective and makes the roads durable and prevents recurring potholes.
Recycling plastic can empower local communities through various initiatives that enhance their livelihoods, while at the same time supporting local industries and cutting the country’s huge import bill for plastic-related products. Currently, Zimbabwe is facing a severe shortage of plastic packaging and bottling materials owing largely to foreign currency shortages. This has had a severe knock-on effect on production in various economic sectors. However, there is little investment that has been made in the country to support the recycling of plastic materials to help reduce the import bill and enhance local production.
As we celebrate World Environment Day, Zimbabweans from all walks of life need to play their part by adopting simple everyday ways that can help the country to reduce plastic usage.
We need to promote the use of eco-friendly bags to reduce the usage of plastic bags in daily life.
Rwanda has shown us the way and the country has been plastic bag-free since 2008. This central African country implemented a complete ban on plastic bags, while other countries around the world were just starting to impose taxes on plastic bags.
If Rwanda can do it, Zimbabwe can. Other countries have banned plastics to fight the growing problem of plastic pollution.
Many are moving to ban plastic plates, cups, and utensils to help cut the usage of plastic through set targets.
Carrying your own shopping bags to the supermarket and avoiding the purchase of products in plastic packaging can be an important step in the fight against plastic pollution.
Zimbabwe needs to conduct aggressive campaigns to create awareness about plastic waste. People need to know both the immediate and long-term effect of plastic pollution.
And, as we celebrate this day, we need to be part of various other communities worldwide that are rolling up their sleeves to protect the planet and take ownership of their environment.
We have the power to stop plastic pollution. We only need to understand the gravity of plastic pollution both to our environment and human health. The environment of Zimbabwe is the most important treasure we have and we need to change our attitudes towards it and stop treating it recklessly.