Many years ago, there was a spirited campaign by environment-conscious Zimbabweans that canned beverages should not be imported into the country.
The argument was that there was no set process for disposing of the cans. The cans are made of non-biodegradable metal that would clog our water reticulation and sewer system.
The argument stressed the difficult of managing metal waste in a country already struggling to clean its urban centres and with no capacity to clean roadsides and rural business centres.
When the cans were introduced, city councils did not make contingency plans for the proper disposal of the metal. Add to the cans, there has also been a more than tenfold proliferation of plastic bottles.
Many urbanites prefer bottled water because they don’t trust the tapped water coming into their homes. Besides bottled water, there is also a plethora of other beverages that come in plastic bottles, including the popular sorghum beverages — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — meaning tonnes of plastic are thrown away every day.
Like metal, plastic is also not biodegradable. It never decomposes and, therefore, its adverse effects on the environment are permanent. Where plastic is burnt as a way of disposal, it poisons the atmosphere and just as burnt metal also poisons the soils.
The calls to stop these practices fell on deaf ears mainly because the powers-that-be either lacked foresight or were just too foolish to care.
Before the introduction of cans, almost all beverages came in returnable bottles. Whenever one bought a drink, a deposit on the bottle was levied. This not only gave a monetary value to the bottle, but also meant the bottles remained in circulation and didn’t need to be thrown out onto the rubbish heap. People cared for the bottles and that kept the environment relatively clean.
Not with cans and plastic bottles. Once one has consumed the contents, the containers become valueless and have to be thrown out the window mostly by travellers. What this has meant is that the country has millions of cans and plastic bottles thrown into our environment every month.
In most cases, consumers just throw them into the nearest hollow they come across. Mostly, this will be into the city drainage system. But because of budgetary limitations, these drainage systems are left unattended until they begin to cause trouble as they did at the onset of the rains this year. Any otherwise minor downpour has left city centres flooded because the water does not drain away fast enough, if at all it does.
It was a sorry sight watching shops flooded by water which should otherwise have run down the drain to the dams. The damage the water had onto vehicles will never be quantified because each motorist dealt with their troubles quietly.
But in a way, we deserve what we get. It was a salutary lesson to everyone that what we do to our environment always comes back to haunt us — the environment fights back! If we continue on this path, worse will obviously happen; the poisoned environment will kill us.
The way forward is simple: Ban the cans and the plastic bottles with immediate effect or put in place a waste disposal system that ensures containers are properly managed. Only a revolutionary solution will work.