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Of plastic bags and the environment

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The beginning of 2011 ushered a new kind of thinking and expectations, resolutions and high-riding wishes but a surprise package was looming around the corner, this was a New Year present in the form of the withdrawal of plastic bags from several supermarkets around the country.

Indeed yes, what a rude awakening it was! It was more than just a surprise from the shoppers’ point of view as no awareness had been made prior to the ban and even after the ban had been enforced.

The majority of the people were left wondering why they had to leave shops without their usual convenience.

Even the gullible shop workers and owners could not explain why they could not continue to offer this kind of service.

This was the right thing to do as the continued use of plastic bags is a menace to the environment and as a result Zimbabwe had to comply with what is happening around the world.

The uses of plastics, from the manufacturing process to their packaging, contribute to lots of carbon emissions into the atmosphere and the environment.

Before explaining why the use of plastics is bad, it is important to clarify what has somewhat become part of Zimbabwean English.

This is the issue of “plastic paper bags”, which has gradually become part of our everyday discourse.

There is nothing like a “plastic paper bag”, otherwise it becomes self-contradictory. The correct term is “plastic bag/s”.

The difference between a plastic bag and a paper bag is that a plastic bag is made of plastic where as a paper bag is made of paper, quite simple.

The use of plastic bags had become everyone’s shopping life and an addiction.

Therefore shopping without a plastic bag defeats the whole purpose of shopping. People were used to brands like Clicks, Greatermans, Barons, Raffles or Barbour’s, but now they are being forced to load their groceries into a reed basket (nhava), goat skin bag or sisal knitted bag which do not pollute the environment.

For this reason the only option is to revisit the indigenous knowledge system and fuse tradition with modernity.

The problem is that when plastic bags are no longer in sight, then what will be the best alternative? So it’s bingo for the proponents of indigenisation and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) to lead the way and use locally available resources to alleviate the problem of plastic bags.

It is also clear that plastic bags are not the only menace as there are a wide range of plastic types and the mineral water plastics are the other increasingly used form of plastic.

The problem with plastic containers is that they are easy to dispose of but difficult to destroy as they do not decompose.

Plastic materials never perish thereby becoming an eyesore, mosquito-breeding grounds and damaging to the environment.

Besides the use of plastics as carrier bags, supermarkets will find it difficult to package their products.

There must always be an alternative and a way forward in the face of this dilemma.

The first attempt should be to educate people on how plastics contribute to climate change problems so that people would acknowledge that they are indeed hazardous.

It’s difficult to force people to accept that plastics are a menace to the environment without them experiencing it.

For this reason, people may stop carrying plastic bags to the shops but will continue to use them for other activities.

People need to be reminded that plastics trap water and breed mosquitoes; they can interfere with plant growth, damage the ecosystem and block sewer pipes.

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