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Healthy Environment: Healthy Community

For decades, shoppers and businesses have relied on lightweight plastic bags as strong, cheap, and effective means of carrying items. This popular item actually does more harm than good to humans and the environment.

The biggest reason countries around the world should be more serious about putting an end to the production and use of plastic nylon shopping bags is these bags are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic. Because this substance does not biodegrade, plastic bags can last up to 1,000 years in the environment as garbage. Apart from the eyesore that waste plastic bags are, they are a common cause of clogged drainage systems, sewers, and waterways. In many cities around the world – especially in developing countries – clogged drains are major breeding grounds for mosquitoes which cause malaria, a disease that kills millions of people in the world.

Another reason is, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature, over 100,000 whales, seals, and turtles die every year as a result of eating, or getting trapped by waste plastic bags which find their way to the open seas and oceans. Plastic bags also damage economies by killing so many domestic animals. For instance, in Mauritania (North Africa), more than 70 percent of the cattle and sheep that die in the capital city, Nouakchott, die from eating plastic bags. This type of economic loss is common in many parts of Africa where livestock often graze in areas with significant waste plastic bags.

The third reason is plastic bags are made from substances extracted from petroleum. Petroleum-related activities are a major contributor of carbon emissions which harm the environment and continue to have global climate change impacts. If the world’s demand for plastic shopping bags continues to increase, it will surely increase the production and demand of petroleum now and in the future. This, of course, is bad news for the world’s climate.

To address the problem, governments have taken actions to ban the sale of lightweight bags, charge customers for lightweight bags and heavily tax the stores that sell them. The Bangladesh government was the first to do so in 2002, imposing a total ban on plastic bags. Such a ban has also been applied in countries such as Rwanda, China, Taiwan, Macedonia and, most recently, Kenya and Sri Lanka. Some countries in Western Europe impose a fee per bag. Bans, partial bans, and fees have been enacted by some local jurisdictions in North America, Australia, the United Kingdom and Myanmar. Concurrently with the reduction in lightweight plastic bags, shops have introduced reusable shopping bags.

Eritrea is one of the countries to totally ban the sale of lightweight bags. The government issued a proclamation, to prohibit the production, sale or distribution of plastic bags in Eritrea under the legal notice no.63/2002. The Ministry of Land, Water and Environment, Ministry of Commerce and Industry and Maekel Region Administration work together to enforce the rules.

Accordingly, Asmara and parts of Eritrea, once littered with a sea of flimsy shopping bags, are being cleaned up thanks to a new law entered to help the country protect nature. In the capital city, Asmara, and other outlying regions, the plastic bags have been replaced by the cotton and nylon and the people have no choice but to adapt. After the official proclamation those who import, produce, distribute or sell plastic bags are fined. It is estimated that offenders can pay several thousand of Nakfa. Authorities are indeed determined to stem the problem. Individuals are not fined if they are caught with a plastic bag. They simply have to tell the authorities where they got the bag from, and only if individuals do not co-operate are they fined.

The head of Rules and Regulations branch of Zoba Maekel, Col. Knfe Habtom, said that although no
budget has been allocated for the project, the people played a big role in making it successful. He added that as soon as the people realized their negative effects, they supported the proclamation and for this reason the project became successful in a short period of time; it just took a maximum of two years.

He also said that what made the regulations to prohibit the production, sale or distribution of plastic bags successful is the Division of rules and regulation has a strong cooperation with the police of Eritrea. The cooperation made it easy to control and detect plastic bags distribution in different places around the nation. The Ministry of Land, Water and Environment as well as Ministry of Industry have also supported the law by raising awareness of the community through posters and notice boards.

Col. Knfe recommended that even
if we have had satisfactory results we cannot say plastic bags have totally vanished. They are still available around the nation, and it is obvious that the plastic bags will have negative impact on the environment. The authorities should have on going inspection over the production and distribution of plastic bags within the country. As people always use what is prepared for them, if plastic bags are still produced or imported into the country, is totally a destruction of the law.

He also recommended that the community should realize that it does not only block drains, choke farm animals and marine wildlife and pollute the soil, but it also ruins dramatic natural vistas and can take 20 to 1 00 years to decompose. If we really care about the earth, it is high time we started breaking our attachment to plastic shopping bags and replace them with shopping bags made from paper, cloth, jute, and raffia which have turned out to be excellent ‘earth-friendly’ alternatives.

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