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The plastic bag ban! Even Bangladesh did it

By: Sudha Subramanian
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A great sense of feeling sinked in when my lil one came back home with a piece of paper which talked about the three Rs - Reuse, Reduce and Recycle. He had understood very little though and the enormity of what he had learnt eluded him. But, my own thoughts wandered because they were still as relevant (and perhaps more relevant) as they were when I had learnt about them when I was little. Nothing much had changed in all the years. I still remember like it was yesterday when I tucked under my moms sari and walked to the Vegetable bazaar with one wired basket and got back home all the goodies. No plastic covers. Then, I remember the time, when I would walk up to the shop and bought something and I could request the man for a plastic cover. Now, when I walk across to the super market, a man helps me pack my shopping and carefully picking out the things - dairy products in one cover, toilet cleaners, shower gels and shampoos all in one cover, vegetables in one cover, frozen food in one cover and I would be walking back home with four or five covers giving me a feeling of having shopped heavily. All said, the use of plastic had just increased many fold but the talk about protecting the environment has remained.

In the UAE, there is scant respect for plastic. Everybody uses it and in fact they abuse it. If you happen to go to a shop and ask each item you have bought to be put in a different cover, they would do so and perhaps even give you a cover or two..... It surprises me because, though some of the covers say - please re-use this bag- I wonder how many use it. Of course, many argue, they re-use it - as in use the plastic bag for garbage disposal! How many garbage disposal covers do you need? Is it difficult to carry the same cover to the supermarket next time you shop? One popular supermarket actually sells a bag for a throw away price of 2 dirhams and even gives life long guarantee - meaning to mend the bag even if it tears but nobody wants to pay for the bag of course. What if the supermarkets start to levy a price for the plastic bags - will the use of plastic reduce?

In Ireland, the use of plastic bags was reduced by 90% when they started to charge 15 cents per bag in 2002! This was definitely a big move. This trick probably worked because, we as humans do not want to pay for the bag. It is not about the 15 cents but we would like to pay only for the shopping. Today, majority of the people carry their own cloth bags and of course, they have multiple bags - some in the car, some in the house and almost everywhere. They all Re-use!!!!!!

The surprising thing is the ban on plastic has worked in the neighbouring Bangladesh! Although they have other reasons for banning - plastic bags clog the gutters leading to floods during the rainy season- and not for actually helping the environment, it seems to have worked. It is now helping the environment immensely. This was as early as 2002 and in 2008 the fast growing nations like India is still thinking about it. Ofcourse, the practicalities are perhaps complicated. I can immediately think of plastic making companies going on a hunger strike and all the politicians losing a lot of money - so who really cares about a little plastic being thrown here and there and the environment being hazardous? It is not going to happen when we are alive and perhaps something may happen sometime when none of us are going to be around. So, it is OK. But some states in India seem to have banned plastic bags made below 25 microns. Yet, the only way perhaps India can ever come around reducing its use is by stamping a tax on the bag and I simply find it so difficult to see it happening.

In Switzerland, nobody hands over a plastic bag at the shopping counter. You carry your own bag and buy. They have a proper system of disposing almost everything. There are paper shredding machines in many places, and the most surprising thing is that they levy a charge for garbage disposal too. The bag can be bought from any supermarket and will be charged according to the size of the bag costing about 4 Swiss francs per bag. Household garbage has been increasing every year and disposal of this is even more expensive. By passing on a bit of the massive expense the government incurs, people are thinking twice before throwing something into the bin. The garbage has reduced by 40% since 1992!!! By doing this, people have just become more responsible and the results are visible clearly to any visitor in Swiss. Although you are initially in a state of shock to pay for garbage that you want to dispose, you start to see the reason at the end of the day. People now dont just throw a half full garbage in the bin. They wait for the bin to fill up and then, throw!!! Stamping a price can do wonders!!

In Belgium too, Plastic bags are taxed. So, while you are shopping in there, you carry your own bag and of course, you dont care if the shampoo went into the bag along with the milk because, if you do, then, you have to pay for the cover that you want to put the shampoo in. Most people here carry the shopping bag and of course, some of them have even got very trendy. The trend of banning the plastic has started and we all hope that will have a domino effect but perhaps much damage has already been done. What can be done about this?? This is the question that constantly echoes all over. I can see something happening only if there is a conscious effort by every individual. This is an idealistic reasoning but I am an optimist because my little one one day announced after watching animal planet that he would prefer to carry a hand towel in his snack box and not his favourite teddy bear paper napkin because the pandas were not getting enough food. Hope does linger on in all our lives - doesnt it? With 25 hectares of land being deforested every minute, I had lost all hopes of a green environment but when I saw the concern in my lil ones eyes about the pandas, new hopes emerged.

Sudha Subramanian

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