Rethinking plastic

Posted on January 17, 2011. Filed under: Waste |

-NST-editorial

AS societies and governments become more environmentally-conscious and try to account for their contributions to this polluted world, plastic-bag bans are gaining momentum in an effort to rein in humankind’s destructiveness. In Ma-laysia, billions of plastic bags are given out to shoppers annually. When discarded irresponsibly, these plastic bags end up clogging drains or becoming choking hazards to children, animals and sea creatures. Even when discarded responsibly, they end up in landfills and take a millennium to degrade.

The banning of plastic bags from hypermarkets and supermarkets, which are primary centres for consumer spending, is not without controversy. Even so, plastic bag bans are an idea that is long overdue. At the simplistic level, the ban will force consumers to reuse shopping bags, or make them more frugal in taking more plastic bags than they need. Since people will have to pay for plastic bags, those who buy one simple item, like a bottle of water or a packet of lozenges, will learn to carry away the purchase in their hands, instead of asking for a free plastic bag.

But more than just diminishing the size of our landfills, or reducing the number of barrels of oil needed to produce plastic bags, the plastic bag ban movement could be the catalyst for a reversal of consumer excesses. For, although the plastic bag began its life as a cheap, lightweight and hygienic way to carry and store consumer purchases, it has evolved from a by-product of consumerism into the symbol of the consumerist culture. For the common man, every purchasing activity concludes with a plastic bag. But consider this: nearly every thing we buy comes in some sort of plastic packaging. Rice, salt, dried shrimp, curry powder and even water come in a plastic package. Some products even come individually packed for convenient consumption, like sweets, sliced cheese, biscuits, instant noodles, tissues and drinking straws.
Advocating the use of biodegradable plastic is only a partial solution: for, even under perfect conditions, biodegradable plastic produces carbon dioxide when degrading, while under imperfect conditions it produces methane. Both are greenhouse gases. The fact is, the billions of plastic bags that end up in landfills make up only two per cent of all solid waste. All of that waste degrades, and all of this adds to global warming. People need to rethink their consumer habits and reduce consumption, so that fewer things end up on the waste heap. Plastic bags should be just the beginning.

Read more: Rethinking plastic http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/16divie-2/Article/#ixzz1C2XdZdGN
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