U Khin Maung Myint (MPT Retired)
I had been contemplating on writing an article about the nuisance of the plastic bags and styrofoam packagings, for quite a long time. As I had turned my attentions to other subjects, I haven’t given serious thought to it. However, a few days ago, while I was surfing the SKY NET TV channels, I unexpectedly stumbled onto a familiar scene that I had seen not very long ago. It was a performance by a Filipino group, El Gamma Penumbra, that won the first place in the 2015 Asia Got Talent competition held in Singapore.
The show was broadcast live on the television. It was a shadow show performed by a group of young men and women. They performed many episodes as they progressed up to the finals. The themes of all the episodes were related to the Mother Nature. The audience in the hall and I, who watched the shows live on the TV, were mesmerized by their performances. As they were shadow shows, the audience saw only the silhouettes changing patterns. Although there was no dialogue, the story they told by their choreography was so amazing and managed to send clear messages.
The scene I mentioned above was an excerpt from their final and prize-winning performance. It was aired between the programmes on a TV channel, every now and then, to create public awareness of the adverse effects of the indiscriminate littering of the plastic bags. The title of this article, I must admit, is lifted from that video clip. Though it is short, I believe it is very precise and could be very effective in sending the message to the public.
As I lived alone and am in good health and still able, I did my household chores myself. That include cleaning the house, shopping, cooking and laundry. Each day when I returned from my daily walk, I usually did my shoppings. Every item bought were packed in plastic bags, so everyday I brought back at least five to six of those bags. These bags would pile up in a matter of few days if I do not dispose them daily. I must say they are becoming the most annoying garbage in my house nowadays, as I am preoccupied with my writing, I sometimes tend to litter them absentmindedly. Just imagine how much, a sizeable family would be stocking them up. According to some estimates, millions of plastic bags are being used all over the world each day.
If these bags are not disposed off systematically, they are bound to cause devastating effects to the environment and hence to the ecosystem too. The most visible effects would be the clogging of the drains that would lead to flooding in the cities and towns, causing inconveniences and posed health risks to the populace. Most of these plastic wastes would be discharged into the streams, creeks and rivers, polluting the water and causing waterborne diseases and killing the fishes, in the extreme cases. Eventually they reached the seas and the oceans, causing damages to the coral reefs, which are the habitats and spawning places for the marine life, thus endangering them.
The use of plastic as packagings should be avoided at all costs, as they are made from petroleum products, which are mostly inorganic and are harmful to the health. Thus they are nuisances, which we are knowingly putting up with.
As for me I had started to reduce the use of the plastic bags. Whenever I went shopping for groceries and meat, chicken or fish, I used to take along an eco-friendly bag or a “green bag” as they are called. For the vegetables, I asked the vendors not to use the plastic bags, but to put them directly into my bag, as for the meat, chicken or fish, I had to unavoidably accept the plastic bags. However, that had reduced the number of plastic bags brought home, drastically. So, I would like to suggest the use of the “green bags” when shopping for food stuffs.
If the “green bags” are not readily available and must unavoidably use a plastic bag, reuse it as many times as possible before throwing it away. This too will assist in reducing the number of plastic bags disposed daily. If everyone can adopt the above practices, it would drastically reduce the plastic wastes that are damaging our ecosystems and save our planet from disasters.
The recycling of the plastic bags would also contribute to the reduction in the production of new ones and thus put a hold on the increase of the plastic bags. In most countries, large scale recycling are being carried out and in some countries they are incinerated in environment-friendly incinerators.
The styrofoam are also causing great problems today. They form the bulk of the urban garbage and the marine debris. Their production impacts, on the fuel consumptions, the environments, the greenhouse gas effects and the health are very high. Like the plastic bags, they do not decompose easily, but unlike the plastic bags, they are un-recycliable. Due to the fact that recycling them are not cost-effective, they are not included in the recycling process and thus they are categorized as non-recyclable. They could take decades or even hundreds of years to decompose, even if they are buried underground. Studies had found that consuming foods packaged in styrofoam containers could cause serious health problems, especially the warm and oily foods, and also the acidic and alcoholic beverages. Over 100 cities in the US and Canada and some in Europe and Asia had banned them due to their negative effects on health.
I think most of the people in our country are not aware of the health hazards and the adverse consequences of the littering and the use of the plastic bags and the styrofoam products. So awareness campaigns should be carried out to educate our people. Emphasis should be placed on the fact that it is important to reduce, reuse and recycle the plastic bags. In many countries, paper and fabric shopping bags that are biodegradable are being increasingly used. Also, recyclable plastic bags and biodegradable plastic bags are rapidly replacing ordinary plastic bags. As for our country, those eco-friendly shopping bags may still be out of reach for most people.
Thus, we should reintroduce the use of our traditional packing materials — the banana leaves, the lotus leaves, the In leaves (tifzuf) and certain species of palm leaves. They are abundant in our country and were being used from the time immemorial, until the discovery of polyethylene and polystyrene, which are used for making the plastic bags and styrofoam containers. These leaves are readily decomposable, organic, harmless and their decompost wastes would contribute greatly in fertilizing the soil. Last, but not least, by introducing them, businesses in their productions would generate more incomes for the rural population, and enhance their livelihoods. Let us save the “Gaia”, our Mother Earth, by doing away with the un-desireable products.
U Khin Maung Myint (MPT Retired)