Problems on hold
It is good to see environmental awareness on the rise in Egypt. Many Egyptians are getting to better realise the extensive damage we inflict upon the quality of our lives, also upon nature and animal and plant life on our land, through erroneous behaviour and practices. The entire world is already awake to the short and long term environmental risks threatening our planet; numerous research, studies, and conferences keep tabs on them and propose measures to stem the fallout.
The environmental issue most recently in the spotlight in Egypt, leading the government to propose a bill to the House of Representatives in order to tackle it, is that of plastic waste. It is no secret that plastic products are extensively used by Egyptians, whereas no policy is in place to regulate their use, or the means of disposing of or recycling the waste generated. The problem with plastic waste is that it has grown out of all proportion, and the need has arisen for legislation to restrict the use of plastic and allow for safe disposal of its waste through recycling. It appears that we have so underestimated the volume of plastic bags, packages, and products we cast away on daily basis that we failed to foresee the huge heaps of waste they would form over large, widespread areas. If anything, it exposed the scandalous ineptitude of dealing with it.
Both official and independent reports indicate that plastic waste has massively piled up in garbage dumps and on coasts. Recyclable wastes such as paper, wood, glass, and even organic waste, are sorted out for recycling, but plastic waste is left for the natural elements to handle. It is blown away by winds or carried by waters to spread over land and sea, causing detrimental pollution. Plastic bags especially have been found to pose a severe threat to marine life, since they are carried by currents over extensive distances and nibbled by small and large marine creatures, constituting a natural and environmental disaster of proportions hitherto unheard-of.
Out of all the plastic products we use daily, plastic bags have been proved the main culprit among the plastic waste generated, hence the call worldwide to limit, even ban, their use. This may appear near-impossible to consumers who cannot today imagine any shopping or carrying activity without plastic bags. But members of my generation that lived before these bags came into use remember paper bags and carton boxes; we remember our mothers shopping with leather or fabric bags in which to carry the goods they bought. That was before plastic bags took over our lives. Today, however, we need to go back to pre-plastic bag practices. In this we will not be alone, other countries have preceded us with legislation and practices to phase out the use of plastic bags.
The real worry, however, is not the much-needed ban or restriction of plastic use; it is: whatever will become of plastics producers? It is good to pass legislation that would lead to a better environment, but we must realise that banning plastic bags would lead to closure of entire factories that produce them, and would put out of business thousands of persons and activities that thrive on their production. To say nothing of the countless workers and employees involved in the design, production, and marketing of these bags, who would be without work should a ban be imposed. Do we have the figures or data that concern every aspect of this industry and those employed in it? Have we any idea what would become of these people once the factories close? Have we any plan for the would-be defunct industry or the workforce in it?
No project to do away with plastic bags can work without creating alternative opportunities for those currently employed by the industry. Is it possible to rehabilitate the industry towards producing alternative products that would be in demand; hence rescuing establishments, people and opportunities?
21 July 2019