Hello from Ethiopia. I am back working in this beautiful country. Although beautiful, there are mountains of plastic bottles everywhere.
But how can we really expect developing countries to change their behaviour and reduce their plastic usage, when first world countries do not deal with their own plastic issues – they just ship their plastic off to a developing country. And then just carry on as before, wrapping everything in plastic and buying bottled water when their water is perfectly safe to drink.
Recently, I have been working in Bangladesh. When I was there last, I found out that Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags nationwide in 2002. The decision was made after two thirds of Bangladesh was flooded and it was estimated that up to 80% of waterlogging in the cities was caused by plastic blocking drains.
But the first place to ban them was actually the small US island Nantucket, in 1990. Nantucket went a step further by banning all plastic packaging in 2016.
China banned some bags in 2008 although I have worked there a lot since then, and I am not sure I have seen much impact and still seem to be given plastic bags a lot! But it is a step in the right direct and it is thought that about a third of plastic waste in oceans comes from China.
Kenya then banned plastic bags in 2017 and other African countries which have banned the bags are Eritrea, Mauritania, Morocco, Rwanda and Tanzania. Nigeria has no bag ban, but through a company, it encourages women to crotchet plastic waste into colourful reusable bags which are sold in markets. These countries have been so proactive in banning plastics as they have seen the negative effects they have on their sewage systems. China banned them in time for the Olympics and Kenya due to the impact these bags was having on their water system.
In Rwanda, it is reported that the ban is so strict that shopkeepers stocking the bags can be jailed for 6-12 months and carrying one in public is punishable with a hefty fine!
But what about some of the wealthiest countries in the world?
In the UK, they are only now thinking about the problem, and that has occurred really as a response to China has refusing to take Britain’s plastic “recycling” waste anymore. The UK has had a charge on the bags for a few years now, but some countries have just banned plastic bags of certain thickness. France, for example, bans plastic bags with a thickness under 50 microns.
And what about the USA – one of the richest countries in the world. What are they doing?
There are no nationwide bag bans in North America – or South America that I can find. Plastic bags have been banned in US state California and in other towns and cities across the country. Canada has also bans in a number of towns, including Montreal. But really, is that good enough?
In Kenya, the road to banning plastic bags was not a smooth one. The ban was accused of hurting businesses and making workers redundant. The ban was even been challenged in court. But they fought and won.
So come on UK, America, Canada, and all the other wealthy countries. Ban the plastic bag, don’t just put a charge on them or fuss around with thickness. Take the bull by the horns and ban them!