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Local, global effects of discarded plastic bags

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The day set aside for the environment by the United Nations is 5th June. the aim of the World Environment Day is to create awareness about human attitudes to the current state of the physical environment by encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of the environment and ecosystem. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants held on May 22nd 2001 and enforced on May 17, 2004, expected nations to implement legal, organisational and environmental management measures and some technological changes to prevent pollutions. The convention seeks to protect human health and the environment from the risks posed by POPs. Environmental pollution is an undesirable change in the environment through harmful substances caused by man’s activity or natural disaster which also results to the degradation of the environment with its attendant’s consequences on biodiversity (Ityavyar& Thomas). Parts of the pollutants that enter into the ocean are through maritime, industrial waste water, offshore oil, air pollutants, farm run-off, sewage, and litters.

Water pollution causes these health challenges in man: headache/ fatigue, respiratory illness, cardio-vascular illness, Gastroenteritis, cancer risk, nausea, and skin irritation. Pollution kills people, wild life, and plants.  Pollution is ability to constitute nuisance and negatively affect health of the people.Pollution takes different forms depending on our consumption patterns and it occurs through many ways such as dumping of wastes into water bodies, especially plastic products. Parts of the problems bedevilling the earth at present among others are the depletion of the ozone layers through green-house-gases caused by the production and consumption of some damaging goods. Plastics are petro-chemical products which break down to carbon and methane(green–house–gases) to cause warming of the environment.  Plastics constitute ecological and environmental issues; they pollute water ways, clog sewers and negatively affect aquatic creatures.  Toxic contaminants especially from plastics pollute water bodies through rivers and streams.

Plastics are toxic in nature and cause ocean acidification. They are thus damaging to the environment. They constitute most of the wastes.  They degrade slowly, litter rivers, seas and oceans.  Plastics reduce oxygen level in the soil and lower the level of survival of organisms.  Most solid wastes contain nylon and plastics because of their usefulness to the day to day activities of man. Plastics are useful in homes, markets, and products advertising and packaging.  There are 86 million metric tons of plastic in our oceans, and 8 million are added every year.  Plastics have outnumbered plankton with ratio 26-1 in the sea. Every year, around 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide and the USA alone use 380 billion yearly.

The nature of plastic makes it to breakdown into tiny toxic particles that contaminate soil and waterways. When nylon clogs sewer and drain systems, it causes flood and breeding spaces for germs, bacteria  and mosquitoes that cause diseases. These plastics have turned to debris in the ocean worldwide and kill millions of sea creatures through accidental ingestion in the ocean. Plastics constitute obstruction along the coastlines and cause the death of animals and sea creatures. They are mistaken for food by sea animals and block their mouths, intestine; entangle their limbs and get them drowned. Sea creatures that come into contact with them drown and become incapacitated while being entangled by plastics.  This happens when nylon clings through their intestines to block the breathing passages and stomach.   Plastics being swallowed by aquatic animals have led to their deaths because they are poisonous to their body formations.  Cows, sheep and cattle ingest nylons and it leads to their deaths.

Plastics can be prevented from constituting a nuisance to the environment by regulating its usage and disposal.  Some countries have banned its use; while some have reduced its usage because of the menace they are constituting to the environment. The environment needs eco-friendly products which are recyclable or renewable. More energy is utilised on plastic production. The European Union has categorised products into Green products which are have highest eco-environmental criteria of the EU schemes of eco-labelling.   Use and production of plastics have increased from 8.3 billion tonnes since 1950 to 322 million tonnes produced in 2015 alone. Plastics are used for many things and it is widely used.  Usage levels of plastics vary from one country to another. A little of it is renewable and it has become an employment market.  Plastics have become major source of revenue and income to companies and nations. Plastics are used on daily basis,in markets, supermarkets, as shopping bags, to package goods, and as souvenirs petroleum by products (petro-chemicals).

They are of different ranges and categories: single and bio-degradable bags. Some are thin and light weight; while some are thick. Plastic bags are in different forms: primary packaging bags, hospital waste bags, baggage bin liner etc. Some plastics are for commercial and household packaging. Lightweight bags are used in the markets to carry items and have now been replaced with reusable shopping bags.  We have plastics which are utilised by manufacturing companies for packaging of goods and products. Some of them are usually thrown away without it being decayed. However, Nylon is used more frequently in packing consumable and domestic goods on daily basis with single use left to be discarded. For quite some time, attention has not been put on how to dispose it from the environment. They have not been disposed in sustainable manners. Light weight bags are eaten by livestock and wildlife.  Aquatic animals eat the plastic and pass it over to humans. Disposal of plastic is not easy because it does not decompose from the environment.  Impositions of ban or taxes on plastics is an important way of protecting the environment and preventing loss of biodiversity.

  • Fashona is Director of Administration and Supply, Oyo State Ministry of Information, Culture and tourism

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