Plastic pollution and why we need to manage it for happy, healthy environment | WWF Kenya

Plastic pollution and why we need to manage it for happy, healthy environment

Posted on
09 July 2018
Plastic is one of the most ubiquitous manmade compounds on earth. Since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s to 2015, humans have created more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics. Alarmingly, more than half of that plastic was produced in the last 13 years. Unless something drastic is done, that trend is set to increase further in the future. It’s estimated that at least 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year with detrimental impacts on species, habitat and people. The science is clear; we all have to take action to reduce our plastic use. 

Plastics affect many animals, including sea birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crabs, livestock and other creatures that mistake plastics for food. Turtles will often eat plastic bags thinking they are jelly fish, and birds are attracted to the smell of algae that grows on floating plastic. Also, most of the plastic is broken down by the sun and water into small particles the size of rice, which the fish eat too. Because it’s impossible to digest plastic, animals develop infections and blockages of the digestive systems and die.

Plastic has and continues to inflict environmental damage on land, air and sea with vulnerable ecosystems bearing the brunt of this devastation and in turn affecting livelihoods, fishing and tourism. Plastics in oceans degrade poorly, producing toxins that enter the food chain impacting on human health.

In Kenyan waters, marine debris poses a big challenge especially along the sea turtle nesting beaches of the Lamu archipelago, which are the most important nesting beaches in Kenya recording nests from green turtles, hawksbills and olive ridleys. The debris washes up in huge amounts on the beaches making it especially difficult for nesting females and emerging hatchlings.

The campaign to use fewer plastics and getting rid of single use plastic is a global one that is supported by other global bodies including Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Network Offices. Other civil society organizations and various movements in Kenya have rolled out their campaigns to sensitize Kenyans on the effect of the plastics in water and on land. The boldest global action was witnessed during this year’s World Environment Day, whose theme was ‘Beat Plastic Pollution.’

The fight against single use plastic in Kenya got the much-needed boost following the banning of the manufacture, use and importation of plastic carrier bags while encouraging utilization of alternative packaging material and recycling.  One year on, pockets of unscrupulous business people continue to flout the regulation. The onus is now on individuals to resist the allure of single use plastic such as straws and plastic carrier bags through reduction and recycling.
 
Part of getting rid of the plastics is incorporating alternative livelihoods approaches where women and youth living at the coast and other heavily polluted urban areas collect plastics and make them into toys and other handicrafts. From their sales, they earn an income in often-remote areas where income-generating opportunities are few. Involvement of schools and universities in regular cleanup events will form a critical mass of future environmental champions while cleaning our surroundings. The established framework between the Government of Kenya and manufacturers to implement a take-back scheme to rid the environment of plastic bottles is a much welcome relief that will require all stakeholders to complement such efforts.
 
We know there’s a long way to go yet, but we know we have to do this for the good of our marine habitats, the species and communities that depend on them. Why don’t you make a promise to reduce your plastic use? 

By Lily Dali Mwasi

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