Joining the global war on plastics
By Ramadan A. Kader
Where is Egypt standing in the global war on disposable plastics? The question is legitimate for a country struggling to put its environment and economy in good shape. The widespread use of plastic items in Egypt takes a toll on its environmental and economic systems.
Egyptians use around 12 billion plastic bags annually costing around 2 billion Egyptian pounds (11.2 million dollars), according to official figures released in 2017. Material needed for their manufacture is mostly imported.
The grocery stores and supermarkets top the consumer sectors of plastic bags, accounting for 14 per cent of their use.
Plastic waste makes up around 970,000 tonnes or around 6 per cent of the waste in Egypt, the Industry Ministry’s Plastic Technology Centre disclosed last year.
The figures are alarming and should prompt concerted efforts to limit the use of plastic items, including grocery bags, straws, soda bottles and cooking oil packets.
Environmentalists say that plastic bags take long years to break into pieces, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem and its funa and flora.
In Egypt, plastic throwaways were blamed for blocking drains in the Mediterranean Sea city of Alexandria when it was slashed by flash floods in 2016.
Last summer, large amounts of jellyfish swarmed Egypt’s shores, causing trouble to holidaymakers. The proliferation of the jellyfish was attributed to sea pollution caused by disposable plastic items that have also harmed coral reefs.
Several countries around the world have already declared war on the plastic culture due to its environmental and economic harms. For example, British Prime Minister Theresa May has recently unveiled plans for a nationwide ban on the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton swabs.
Other countries are mulling anti-plastic legislation. Some others have already imposed taxes on the use of environmentally-unfriendly plastic bags, encouraging the switch to biodegradable bags. How is Egypt faring in the anti-plastic fight?
In June last year, the Environment Ministry launched a campaign aimed at raising public awareness about the harms of plastic bags. The effort did not receive due media coverage, mainly on television screens.
Signs are strong that the drive has made little impact, as the use of plastic bags is still the order of the day in Egypt. Small grocery shops, large supermarkets, street vendors and pharmacies continue to pack products in plastic bags.
In my childhood days, canvass and paper bags were common. For no good reason, Egyptians have since embraced the detrimental plastic culture. It is high time to reverse the trend.