Monday, July 22, 2019

Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans

In Discipling Marketplace Leaders, we teach that every Christian should have a quadruple bottom line:  social, economic, environmental, and missional. All four are important.  But the one that is often the most difficult for people to understand is the environmental bottom line.

Thomas Aquinas said, "Any error about creation also leads to an error about God."

We forget how intimate the relationship between God and the Earth is, and how it has been entrusted to us to "work and care" for it (Genesis 2:15).

About two years ago, when I landed in Kenya, everyone on the plane was warned not to take plastic bags off the plane and into the country, as those bags would attract a fine of $38,000 USD and four years in jail.  Quite an incentive to lose those bags!  It was amazing to see the plastic bags flying out of the carry-on bags.  We waded through knee-deep piles of plastic bag waste as we disembarked.  I was so proud of Kenya.

As of June 1, Tanzania has also started a plastic bag ban.  There are now 38 countries in Africa that have banned plastic bags.  Africa is leading the world in plastic bag bans (according to Quartz Africa).

Rwanda is looking to be the first plastic-free country.  They started their plastic bag ban in 2008, and Kigali is said to be Africa's cleanest city.  Kenya talks about how much cleaner the country is without plastic bags blowing around.

About 40% of solid waste in Africa is burned, which ends up in toxic pollution, causing asthma, heart disease, and other long-term medical issues.  Of the nine billion tonnes of plastic ever produced, only 9% has been recycled.  By 2050, if things do not change, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic litter (according to the UN Environment Programme).

Ghana, which now claims to have Africa's fastest-growing economy, struggles with frequent floods because of the plastic bags which clog up sewers and gutters.

Governments are paying attention to these challenges and there is a growing movement towards getting rid of single-use plastic, especially.  Bans on plastic straws and plastic cutlery are joining the banning of plastic bags in some places.

The higher the income and rate of urbanization, the greater the amount of solid waste that is produced.  On average, in high-income countries (for example, the US), it is 4.6 pounds per day per person (or 2.2 kg).  Less than one-quarter of that amount is recycled.  The rest ends up in landfills.

However, with China no longer buying the recycling from the US, much of the recycling from the US is also ending up in the landfill.

How I wish that the US would also ban plastic bags and take significant steps toward reducing the use of single-use plastic.

If you are concerned about this for yourself, take an assessment of how much solid waste you are producing every day and try to reduce it.  Take a careful look at single-use plastic especially (plastic wrap, straws, chip or snack bags, candy wrappers, etc) and see if there are alternatives.

Additionally, I have signed a petition for Michigan to ban plastic bags.  If you google your own city, state, or country, you will also find actions that you can join.

Let's join Africa in creating a healthier community and world for future generations!