Guess how many plastic bags will we consume this year? Five trillion. That's 5,000,000,000,000. Or 160,000 per second. Or more than 25 million in the time it will take you to finish reading this column. And guess how many of these five trillion plastic bags will be recycled? Less than 1 per cent. It isn't just the plastic bags, though. There are plastic bottles and caps, plastic forks and knives, plastic straws and plates, plastic cups and cigarette butts (the filter is made of plastic), plastic packaging material, bubble and cling wraps, tablecloths and bath mats, credit cards and cell phones, bibs and aprons, building material, mouse pads, paper clips, luggage, watch bands. the list is quite long - and alarming. Alarming because the longer the list of such everyday items, the more difficult it is to avoid plastic in the first place.
And alarming because quite a few of them are examples of single-use plastic. That's the most harmful kind of plastic because of its throwaway nature, and because, unfortunately, plastic is permanent. Synthetic plastic does not biodegrade easily - it ends up, for hundreds of years, in landfills, on mountains and in oceans, choking marine and wildlife, entering the human food chain through animal tissue and creating havoc with our environment. That small, harmless-looking plastic wrapper on your candy can take anywhere between 450 years to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Considering that plastic was discovered about a century ago (1907), it is safe to assume that not one piece of plastic has so far biodegraded - and won't in our lifetime. Or our children's. And there are types of plastic that are not biodegradable. At all. Which means that unless they are recycled or broken-down using chemicals and enzymes, they will sit on the earth's surface, under it, in water and in the air - forever.
So what can be done? Now that's the question people like us must ask and answer to ensure that we don't leave a dead earth when we pass the baton to our kids. That we don't gift them the scourge of mountains of plastic that would have contaminated their soil, their air, their oceans and their life. As part three of our monthly #KTforGood series, Khaleej Times is declaring a war on plastic pollution, which has assumed epidemic proportions. While we must join hands with the UAE's environmental agencies, government bodies and private sector to clean our beaches and surroundings, we need to do much more than just that. Today, as we introduce our fortnight-long #WarOnPlastic campaign, we're calling our readers to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic as much as they can. If you're an individual, association or organisation willing to participate in this noble cause, get in touch with us at email@example.com.
The journey to a plastic-free world is ambitious, long and very challenging. Let's take the first steps and start where we can. Avoid single-use grocery bags and use bags made of jute or fibre.
They're eco-friendly and reusable. In fact, responsible retailers encourage their customers to opt for reusable grocery bags. Refuse plastic straws at restaurants or plastic spoons and knives as part of home-delivered food. And let's recycle the plastic that we can't refuse. Participate in (or even organise) as many clean-up exercises as we can, and let's do our bit to leave our kids a habitable planet, depriving it of one plastic bag at a time.
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