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Plastic dilemma
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 04 - 2018

Mohamed runs his father's grocery store in Heliopolis. He buys the small plastic bags he uses to pack his client's purchases for LE30 a kilo. He must also buy additional plastic wrappings for cheese and other food items. The cost of the extra packaging makes a considerable dent in his profit margins.
Mohamed has heard about Earth Day and is aware of the zero-plastic pollution target for this year but he is unable to contribute to it. His customers, he says, would complain if he did not hand them their purchases in a plastic bag.
“Maybe if customers had to pay for the bags like in Europe they would think twice before asking for one.” As it is, none of Mohamed's customers arrive with a bag of their own.
Earth Day 2018, marked on 22 April, focused on mobilising the world to reduce plastic pollution. According to Earth Day Network, a non-profit organisation, the aim is to fundamentally change human attitudes to plastics and effect a major reduction in plastic pollution.
In Egypt six per cent of annual waste is plastic, according to a 2017 study by the Plastic Technology Centre (PTC). That is equivalent to 970,000 tons of plastic. Only 45 per cent of that amount is recycled. The remaining plastic waste is left to pollute the environment or else burnt in ways that cause pollution.
Earth Day began in 1970. Today more than 193 countries take part in the annual event.
The goals of End Plastic Pollution's ongoing campaign include ending single-use plastics, the promotion of alternatives to fossil fuel-based materials, 100 per cent recycling of plastics and greater corporate and government accountability.
Around 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year to make bags, packages, bottles and other commodities. No more than 12 per cent of this plastic is properly recycled and reused. The rest ends up in landfills or as litter. Plastic can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, and even then it does not decompose completely.
Plastic carrier bags are used in huge numbers in Egypt and are given away free by supermarkets and other shops. Viewed as disposal, single-use items, vast numbers of plastic bags end up as litter.
“As well as environmental impacts on biodiversity, littered plastic carrier bags have a high economic cost for industries such as tourism and for municipalities charged with clean-up operations,” says the PTC study.
To help solve the problem of plastic pollution the study recommends raising public awareness and encouraging the manufacture of biodegradable plastic. The retail sector should enter into a voluntary commitment not to provide single-use plastic carrier bags. The report also recommends introducing legislation banning free carrier bags being provided to end users, and prohibiting all single-use plastic carrier bags.
“With single-use carrier bags no longer available at no charge consumers will either come up with their own alternatives or use those proposed by retailers,” says the report.
In 2006 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that there were 46,000 pieces of plastic litter floating in every square mile of ocean. Eighty per cent of marine debris worldwide is plastic. It is responsible for the death of more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals each year.


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