How easy to take up an issue that has long irked our society, condemn its painful consequences, and call for reform policies to right all the wrongs it is inflicting! But nothing gets done on that score, matters cool down, the call for reform fades, and the bitter status quo remains with no end in sight. This is exactly how consecutive Egyptians governments have been dealing with problems which then atrophied and became notoriously chronic to Egypt. This attitude was exercised in such extended problems as the tuk tuks and minivans, the rentals of old non-residential housing units, and the slaughter of poultry outside official slaughter houses. I have repeatedly tackled these issues in Watani editorials, most recently on 26 January 2020, 12 January 2020, and 25 November 2018 respectively.
Minivans and tuktuks:
Rentals of old non-residential units:
Banning the slaughter of poultry outside official slaughter houses:
It appears that our government starts with the good intentions of taking the necessary legislative, procedural, and reform decisions and measures before any serious studies are carried out on the issue requiring reform, and without any preparations to deal with predicaments. Once these become obvious, looming difficulties drive the government to freeze the issue at hand; it is placed on hold.
Today I go back to tackle the issue of plastic waste, an issue that has been dawdling since mid-2019. Plastic waste is generated in many fields, especially in all forms of packaging and wrapping. Owing to its practicality, plastic has over the last decades dominated packaging in many industries, replacing glass, metal, wooden or paper packages. Plastic bags are widely used the world over to carry goods, light or heavy. Contrary to non-plastic packages which are eco-friendly and recyclable, plastic packages and bags represent a huge environmental hazard once discarded, since they are difficult to recycle or outright non-recyclable.
The issue of plastic waste goes back more than half a century, but our government woke up to it only last year; and we carry it unresolved into 2020. The awakening did not come out of the blue; it coincided with global warnings against the hazards of plastic; international reports pointed to huge areas of sea and ocean waters covered with plastic wastes carried by the waves and tides. Reports also warned of an unexpected disastrous damage: contrary to common belief that plastic wastes are light and thus float, researchers found that powerful tides and marine currents compress plastic wastes into dense clusters that sink deep into the seas and oceans. Remains of plastic waste were found in the intestines of fishes and other forms of marine wildlife, revealing just what an environmental catastrophe they constitute.
Our government was right then to sound the alarm against plastic waste. Last year, it presented to the House of Representatives a bill to reduce the use of plastics, and to regulate the disposal or recycle of plastic waste. At the time, I applauded the government’s move which was indeed environmentally commendable, but I also asked: what about the manufacturers of plastics? On 21 July 2019, under the title: “Banning plastics … what about producers?” I wrote the following: “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… 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?”
I am not sure whether our government was aware of all these considerations as it rose up to address the plastics predicament and its hazards. But I know that the issue is not on parliament’s agenda during its current round, and that the plastics industry is thriving. I also know that the market still abounds with all sorts of plastic packaging. It is obvious then that our concern for the environmental damage and pollution brought on by plastics is a concern we carry with us from 2019 to 2020.