Say no to plastics
By Patricia Hului
THE JOURNEY OF A PLASTIC SHOPPING bag starts from the retail shops and supermarkets. Plastic bags that aren’t reused or recycled, make their way to landfills.
In properly controlled landfills, the liquid collected from the waste is reprocessed to make it safe enough to be released into the rivers.
“Kuching is one in only three cities in Sarawak that has properly controlled landfills,” stated Ian M Carter, a retired off-shore oil production engineer and founder of Go-Go-Green Society, an NGO which aims to raise awareness by providing free PowerPoint presentations to schools, colleges, universities, companies and any groups curious to know more about the harms of this plastic pest.
He said that most local authorities find a piece of land that they think is suitable because they are hidden, then dump all the rubbish there.
“Eighty per cent of the rubbish there are plastics that will not go away,” Carter stated. “When the rainwater drips through the rubbish dump, it collects on its way all the toxins, all the poisons coming from the rubbish dump.”
Eventually the liquid flows into the river and of course into the oceans, and this is the main goal for World Oceans Day since it was set up in 2008 by the United Nations.
This year’s theme for World Oceans Day is ‘Healthy oceans, healthy planet’. Among its goals on World Oceans Day every year, the UN works towards educating the public on the impact of its actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement, mobilising and uniting the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world ocean.
Currently, Carter is on target to achieve his goal for a plastic free Sarawak by 2020, working closely with local authorities including Kuching North City Commission (DBKU), Kuching South City Council (MBKS) and Samarahan District Council (MDS).
Of course, not many are impressed by this movement to completely get rid of plastic bags.
After Carter completed his talk on ‘How plastics travel’ in his talk at Sarawak Biodiversity Centre on May 24, an attendee argued that it was impossible to fully get rid of plastic shopping bags as they were useful and waterproof so the best way was to reuse them.
But think about this; Bangladesh has banned the use of plastic bags since 2002 after they were found to be the cause of major floods in the country and post-genocide country Rwanda prohibited the use of plastic bags nationwide in 2004.
Plastics need perhaps 1,000 years to disintegrate and it is highly unlikely everybody wants to reuse the same plastic bag for the next century.
Carter highlighted that a majority of solid plastic waste, if not captured by rubbish traps at rivers or drains, ultimately finds its way to one of the oceans massive swirling gyres forming enormous plastic garbage patches.
The UN confirmed that at least 270,000 tonnes of plastic waste are in our oceans as of 2014 and every country including Malaysia plays its part in contributing to these garbage patches.
There are six plastic garbage patches in the ocean: West Pacific Gyre and East Pacific Gyre (which form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), North Atlantic Gyre, South Atlantic Gyre, South Pacific Gyre and Indian Ocean Gyre.
According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), high concentrations of plastic material, particularly plastic bags, have been found blocking the breathing passages and stomachs of many marine species, including whales, dolphins, seals, puffins and turtles.
Researchers Lisa Fendall and Mary Sewell have highlighted a new threat to marine life; those sandy granules we find in many of our facial cleansers especially scrubs and even the small blue specks in our toothpastes.
In their paper ‘Contributing to marine pollution by washing your face: Microplastic in facial cleanser’ they write that polyethylene microplastics found in majority of facial cleansers are not captured by wastewater plants and will enter the oceans.
According to them, microplastics are problematic because they can be immediately ingested by planktonic organisms at the base of the food chain and will be subject to UV-degradation, making them smaller and more toxic in long-term.
Although a large portion of the public is unaware the dangers of these microbeads, manufacturers are slowly doing their part to incorporate them in their products.
Johnson & Johnson and L’Oreal, for instance, are pledging to eliminate the use of polyethylene microbeads in their products by the end of 2017.
Perhaps it’s time to consider checking and changing the products in your bathroom cabinet. If you want to check which companies have pledged to eliminate the use of microbeads, check out this website: http://www.beatthemicrobead.org/en/industry
You can also join the Take the Better Bag challenge here and pledge to promise not take any disposable plastic bags for a whole year.